Deepwater Horizon Review: Rolling in the Deep


Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Matthew Sand (screenplay), David Barstow, David Rohde, Stephanie Saul (book)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez

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Release date: October 6th, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The strong performances.

Worst part: The slimy BP characters.

Docudrama/disaster epic Deepwater Horizon chronicles one of the 21st Century’s most devastating true stories. The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig explosion and fire, on April 20th, 2010, killed 11 people and spilled 210 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The investigation pointed the finger at petrol conglomerate BP’s lackadaisical actions before and after the incident.

Director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, re-teaming after 2013’s docudrama Lone Survivor, deliver the second in their unofficial based-on-a-recent-true story trilogy. Later this year, the duo re-team again for Patriots Day – based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and seceding manhunt. Here, Berg and co. divert their attentions to oil drilling. The plot chronicles the professional and personal lives of driller Mike Williams (Wahlberg). Kissing his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and daughter goodbye, Williams hits the Deepwater Horizon for a mission seemingly like any other. Supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) scalds BP supervisor Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) over dangerous shortcuts. Engineer Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) looks after the nitty-gritty details. In addition, youngster Caleb (Dylan O’Brien) and Jason (Ethan Suplee) protect the drill itself.

Deepwater Horizon, from start to finish, delves into core drilling’s ins and outs. Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand drew inspiration from Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours (written and researched by three people). Clearly, they and Berg became infatuated with the event in question. Like Lone Survivor, Berg’s latest effort is almost too infatuated with the topic. It pars down the drilling and engineering jargon for a wider audience (the A to B to C explanations are worthwhile). However, slower pacing was still required. The walking-down-hallways moments see characters bounce jargon off one another. Although realistic, the gobbledygook is difficult to comprehend. With that said, the effort is greatly appreciated. In fact, the first half shows every square inch of every department on said monolithic structure.

However, modern audiences aren’t interested in engineering discussions or BP representative/stock market drivel. All hell breaks loose once the second half ticks over. Berg – an action-direction master thanks to Welcome to the Jungle and The Kingdom (and difficult to trust after Hancock and Battleship) – ratchets up the tension to 11. Of course, this story deserves respect (Hollywood gleam is a little unsettling here). However, the explosive moments are worth the admission cost. The second half/final third is one extended rescue mission. Gripping set-pieces and solid practical effects turn it into edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Berg and the cast pay respects to all involved. Wahlberg expertly portrays the everyman hero. Russell, back with a vengeance, is at his charismatic best. Rodriguez and O’Brien overcome generic characterisations. However, Malkovich lends his bad-guy schtick to an already absurd role.

Deepwater Horizon is almost a great movie. The action, special effects and direction got me excited for Patriots Day and Berg’s ongoing future. More so, the cast sink into their roles and pay tribute to all whom served. However, broad characterisations and messages almost ruin good work.

Verdict: A tight, taut docudrama.

Lone Survivor Review – Fallen Brothers


Director: Peter Berg 

Writer: Peter Berg (screenplay), Marcus Luttrell, Patrick Robinson (book)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch


Release date: January 23rd, 2014

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Foresight Unlimited

Country: USA

Running time: 121 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The visceral action sequences.

Worst part: Its unsettling agenda.

Here’s a fun question: what do The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Devil, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno have in common? Give up yet? Ok, i’ll just tell you. The answer: their titles reveal major spoilers. This is a problem for multiple reasons. Assuredly, the studios must think their audiences are stupid. To attract multiple target markets, filmmakers and studios reveal their movies’ greatest secrets. Sadly, Lone Survivor is up there with the aforementioned releases. Lone Survivor harms itself thanks to one tiny detail – it’s based on a true story. Unquestionably, this issue is most problematic when dealing with docudramas. Despite the obvious marketing troubles, it’s still acceptable to look past these issues and lap up this confronting thrill-ride.

Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, & Emile Hirsch.

Whether they’re PR stunts or debacles, these movies carry a duty to inform but not spoil applicable and potentially groundbreaking stories. This movie’s production history is a tumultuous journey in itself. Based on Marcus Lutrell and Patrick Robertson’s book about these harrowing events, certain facts, figures, and opinions were changed to suit a ‘standard’ narrative structure. Causing controversy on all fronts, the book has been translated into an exhilarating yet morose action flick. Despite Luttrell’s blessing, the movie sits uncomfortably on shaky ground. This story, though exponentially impactful, needed a significantly more objective and accomplished writer/director. The first half presents these courageous figures as war-obsessed men of honour. Lutrell (Mark Wahlberg) is a grizzly soldier unafraid of death and disparity. Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) awaits his upcoming wedding with baited breath. Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) revels in his profession’s most masochistic aspects. Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) is the tough-as-nails rookie with a heart of gold. Spoiler: three of these people aren’t making it back to base. Introducing its tough-guy caricatures, the first half boasts an awkward and bafflingly unimpressive sense of humour. Making up reconnaissance and surveillance unit SEAL Team 10, these US Navy SEALs head up an important mission called Operation Red Wings. Their mission revolves around murderous Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. Responsible for the deaths of 20 US Marines, Shah must be captured or killed by any means necessary. Dropped into the Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush region, the team sneak through this harsh and unending forest region. Unfortunately, within the first few hours of this mission, the team’s cover is blown by innocent civilians. From this point on, the movie’s Call-of-Duty-esque conflict kicks into gear. 

Eric Bana.

Lone Survivor, despite the marketing and narrative flaws, is a tight, tense and visceral thrill-ride. Mixing varying genre elements into one confronting and egregious concoction, the movie wholeheartedly praises these real-life heroes. Transitioning from gripping war-action flick to horrifying survival thriller, Lone Survivor delivers several tremendous highlights. Pandering to this movie’s agenda would be wrong. But, then again, it would be cruel to attack writer/director Peter Berg for choosing this story. Oh boy, treading this line is difficult! Anyway, though I respect Berg’s intentions, his movie becomes an obvious and one-sided war flick. Berg’s career is peppered with intelligible action flicks (The Kingdom, Welcome to the Jungle) and disgracefully forgettable blockbusters (Hancock, Battleship). Obsessed with the US Military, he becomes infatuated with these all-encompassing tough guys. Here, his blockbuster ticks and war-drama tropes awkwardly clash. Beyond his hit-and-miss filmography, Berg’s inept screenplay turns a potentially compelling concept into indulgent and ineffectual material. Returning to the big screen after Friday Night Lights‘ ongoing success, American prosperity and foreign policy are tools at his disposal. Using military technology and soldiers for the movie’s overwhelming production, Berg’s commendable intentions are overshadowed by his distracting political agenda. Painting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in black and white, Lone Survivor develops a one-sided and imbalanced portrait of this harrowing conflict. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly respect the US military’s efforts to build monumental infrastructures across the world. Unfortunately, movies like Lone Survivor refuse to deliver detailed viewpoints. Praising the US’ stranglehold over smaller territories, heartfelt moments transition into trite and uninspired sections. Bookended with archival footage of Navy SEAL training, and pictures of these heroic figures, this right-wing action extravaganza should’ve retreated to safer ground. Going all out, Lone Survivor transitions into a confused and questionable commentary on the past decade’s aforementioned conflicts. 

“You can die for your country, I’m gonna live for mine.” (Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster), Lone Survivor).

Ali Suliman.

Given the thumbs up by Glenn Beck himself, Lone Survivor hurriedly became a red-white-and-blue box office success story. With LA Weekly critic Amy Nicholson’s review panned by the debilitating media commentator, this potent war flick is an obvious and mean-spirited right-wing fantasy. However, overcoming its irritating and one-sided agenda, Berg’s action direction bolsters this terrifyingly graphic and intense action-thriller. Stepping into the four soldiers’ shoes, the movie examines its characters’ identities. Driven by manliness, ego, and focus, the movie, despite telegraphing certain characters’ demises, comments on every soldier’s immense will to succeed. Lone Survivor, despite the glorious attention to detail, gives thanks to Zero Dark Thirty, Platoon, Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, and Three Kings. A long list for sure, but these movies are infinitely more thorough and responsive. Like The Kingdom, the punishing violence and gore elevate this hokey and conventional war-docudrama. Depicting this conflict’s most intensifying moments, bullet wounds, bruises, and shrapnel cuts stand out. In fact, opting for practical effects is the movie’s ballsiest choice. Berg’s attention to detail and action-direction develop several enthralling set pieces. With our lead characters going head-to-head with Taliban forces, the second two-thirds deliver brutal and ever-lasting gunfights. Despite the one dimensional enemies, the visuals and stunt sequences elevate this middling war-drama. The cliff sequences – in which our lead four hit every rock and tree on their way down – are shockingly gruesome. In addition, Tobias A. Schliesser’s cinematography throws the audience into this atmospheric and saddening situation. His distinct camera movements and angles heighten each set pieces’ intensity and emotional impact. Treading light ground, the performances also elevate this underwhelming and heavy-handed action flick. Wahlberg, carrying multiple action flicks last year, is suitably intense as the team’s determined leader. Left with the most responsibility, Wahlberg’s magnetic presence bolster’s this thrilling survival tale. Kitsch, recovering from a disastrous 2012, is energetic as the cocky second in command. Hirsch and Foster, known for disturbingly honest turns into low-budget dramas, excel in this moody war-drama. Rounding out this eclectic cast is Eric Bana as Lieutenant Erik S. Kristensen. Bana, coming back into the spotlight, is a welcoming presence as the leader manning the all-important military base.

I know I should be respectful to Lutrell and his fallen comrads. In fact, to be clear, I’m specifically attacking Berg for transforming this story into something it’s not. Turning this brave story into an explosive romp, Berg’s aura delivers an underwhelming effort reeking of wasted potential. However, thanks to Berg’s action direction and attention to detail, this engaging war flick overcomes its brash agenda and underwhelming cliches. More movies about this subject should be made, just not like this. 

Verdict: A brutal yet overbearing war-docudrama.

Battleship Review – Battle: Pacific Ocean


Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber

Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson, Rhianna


Release date: May 18th, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 131 minutes


 

2/5

 Best part: The first action sequence.

Wort part: The jingoistic flair.

Starting off by saying Hollywood is out of ideas is obvious when applying that statement to Battleship. With a ridiculous concept in creating a special effects extravaganza based on the popular yet plotless board game of the same name, It makes you wonder what Hollywood may decide to adapt next. This film provides some visual stimulus but little beyond that to satisfy either film aficionados or even fans of the classic board game itself.

Taylor Kitsch & Tadanobu Asano.

Taylor Kitsch & Tadanobu Asano.

We begin our descent into nostalgia and mind numbing stupidity with renegade and good for nothing slacker Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and his brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard); celebrating a birthday, family ties and Naval prowess. When Hopper tries to impress Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) and ends up breaking the law, he is forced by Stone to join him in the Navy. We then join them in full uniform and unlimited egotism as the annual Naval war games between the USA and Japan get under way in Hawaii. Due to scientists sending a signal to a planet much like ours in another galaxy, a strange cluster of objects fall out of the sky and into the Pacific Ocean. Disrupting the fleets in action, this alien group reigns war upon them and threatens the imminent destruction of mankind. Its now up to misfit Hopper and a sole Naval fleet to set aside differences and save the world from an overwhelming enemy.

Rhianna.

Rhianna.

Battleship is a prime example of the slapdash effort both directors and screenwriters put into blockbusters such as this each year. With the Transformers sequels and Battle: Los Angeles also suffering from major script and directorial failings, providing nothing more than a cash grab for a general audience is becoming more noticeable with each one of these cliche sci-fi action flicks. Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Hancock), who should be able to provide a convincing level of flair as acclaimed director Michael Mann’s protege, leaves behind entertaining characters and clever moments of comedy seen particularly in Welcome to the Jungle in order to achieve the conventional. This film may stand as one of the most generic blockbusters in recent memory. Even when looking down the cast list we see the who’s who of popular culture, several trying to make a name for themselves in one way or another. First off, Kitsch, fresh from the recent fantasy adventure epic John Carter, provides his usual emotionless delivery for another bland lead character role. While pop-star Rhianna, essentially playing Vasquez from Aliens, is unable to hold off her Caribbean accent when spouting several of the film’s many unnecessary one liners. Also suffering is an unconvincing Brooklyn Decker as Hopper’s girlfriend and soon to be fiancee. While phoning it in is Liam Neeson as Admiral Shane, who seems wasted in a role involving little more than a glorified cameo.

“We are going to die. You’re going to die, I’m going to die, we’re all going to die… just not today.” (Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), Battleship).

 One of many Naval battles.

One of many Naval battles.

In their defence however, the dialogue throughout is solely based on endless references to Sun Tsu’s The Art of War, corny speeches proclaiming America’s ability to do anything and eye-rollingly tedious one liners. Battleship‘s moments of comedy fall flat and border on offensive; particularly when providing a one sided view of the Japanese. While the jingoistic view of American accomplishment is irritatingly pumped into this film, along with the unsubtle commercialisation of the Navy and Marine Corps. Loving shots of naval vessels and obvious metaphors for peace created by the US try too hard to convey a flag waving subtext. The noisy, special effect driven action sequences may look beautiful, but fail to provide any real creativity. Buildings fall down, people are needlessly killed in large quantities, free ways are crushed by Transformer-esque alien burrowers and battleships fire endlessly at alien spacecraft while being fired upon themselves. This repetitive and monotonous level of destruction does however start off promising. The first battleship sequence, one of few elements resembling anything from the board game, is choreographed, paced and photographed to create a thrilling 10 minute fight to the death against overwhelming and unknown odds. The aliens themselves, despite possessing some of the weirdest spiky beards in memory, are one dimensional at best. Their Halo-like jumpsuits along with conventional grey, slimy designs provide an uninteresting enemy for our heroes to bravely face.

With Hollywood scrambling for ideas, we’ve reached the point where Battleship is the biggest blockbuster on the menu. Sinking the director, cast, and Universal Pictures, this bomb destroys all the ships on the board!

Verdict: A mind-numbing and excessive blockbuster.