Doug Liman, Matt Damon and the Afflecks made a heist comedy for Apple. 'The Instigators'

Filmmaker Doug Liman realized quickly he wasn't on his home turf anymore.

Matt Damon, who he’d directed in “The Bourne Identity” over 20 years ago, had recruited Liman for his new movie “The Instigators,” an action-comedy about a heist gone wrong. Though two decades of friendship is nothing to scoff at, here Liman was coming to Boston to work with Damon and the Affleck brothers, Casey and Ben, whose roots were twice as deep.

“I was suddenly being parachuted into someone else’s family,” Liman said. “Every family’s crazy. And I loved it. I loved everything about it. In a way, I was back to the days of making independent movies where we couldn’t get the attention of anybody in the industry so you’re just doing it on your own with your friends. It's my favorite kind of filmmaking."

“The Instigators,” an Apple TV+ release coming in August is a kind “throwback” movie, in the vein of “Midnight Run,” producer Kevin Walsh said. Written by Casey and Chuck McLean, Damon plays a desperate father, Rory, and Casey is Cobby, a small-time criminal, who team up to rob a corrupt politician. It goes poorly and they find themselves on the run, with Rory’s therapist (Hong Chau) in tow.

Liman was excited to direct Damon again for the first time since “Bourne,” and in a role that’s so different from Jason Bourne, who was essentially a hyper-competent superhero.

“You’ve never seen a character like this in a heist movie,” he said. “This is a guy who doesn’t speed. He’s done everything in his life sort of by the books and this is the first time he’s going to break the rules.”

And while it was Liman’s first time working with Casey, playing a guy who’s “never gotten his act together,” he said he’s quickly become his favorite actor.

“The Instigators" was a largely free and creative environment, where everyone was chiming in on the script, including Damon and Ben, and working to make things better. He hadn’t had that sort of experience huddling with his stars and brainstorming the script as they went since “Swingers.”

And it was a stark contrast to their days on ‘Bourne,” Liman said, where there were all these “adults in the room telling us how the movie is supposed to be made.”

“We obviously didn’t listen to them and that’s why ‘Bourne’ is as good as it is,” Liman said. “But here, we were like ‘holy ---, we’re the adults in the room. How did that happen?”

He praised the model of Artists Equity, Damon and Ben's production company, for getting rid of many of the costly excesses in filmmaking. But, he laughed, “It really feels like the inmates are running the asylum.”

The filmmakers really used Boston as well, shutting down streets and tunnels for the chase sequences.

“We did a stunt that’s along the Esplanade that runs along the Charles River, which they’ve never shut down,” Walsh said. “We did some stuff that you’ll never see in other films. It was challenging but really cool.”

“The Instigators” was made in partnership with Apple TV+, which will give the film a limited theatrical run starting Aug. 2 before it hits the service on Aug. 9.

Liman recently criticized Amazon/MGM for not giving his “Road House” reboot a theatrical release. But he’s not anti-streaming. This is a person who credits his entire career to home video, where most people saw “Swingers.” He laughed that it would even be absurd to put “Swingers” up on a giant screen “given how shoddy the technical work on the film was.”

His main concern, he said, is that the company is “in sync with the agenda of the filmmaker.”

“It’s not so much about whether you’re streaming or theatrical. It’s about what’s the agenda of the company? Apple is a premium brand. They want to make aspirational movies because it’s in sync with their brand,” he said. “For a filmmaker like myself who wants to make smart commercial movies that are fun and glossy and, in the case of ‘The Instigators,’ don’t take themselves seriously, it was a really great collaboration with a company.”


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