Tag Archives: Peter Berg

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

I finally got around to watching Deepwater Horizon, hailed by many as one of the biggest “pleasant surprises” of 2016. I intentionally avoided the trailer and the poster looked fairly generic, so I wasn’t really sure of what to expect. I had seen Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg collaborate on Lone Survivor, which was pretty decent, and I heard their next project, Patriots Day, is a real winner. Incidentally, all three movies are based on true stories.

Anyway, while I knew Deepwater Horizon was about the 2010 explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I had expected the movie to be an action flick where Marky Mark springs into action to save the day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I got instead was a pure disaster movie with incredible tension and spectacular visuals, while at the same time remaining respectful to those who sadly lost their lives in the tragedy. There are heroic elements, but the characters are not painted as heroes, merely victims.

The film begins as you would expect a film of this kind to begin, introducing us to the key characters and their normal lives. There is a bit of a lead-up to the beginning of the disaster itself, though it never comes across as time filler. The ominous vibe is handled really well, and even though you know what’s about to happen there is still a sense of unease and dread.

And when it finally hits — wow. I have not been so afraid of fire since watching Backdraft as a kid — which incidentally also starred Kurt Russell. In fact, Deepwater Horizon actually reminds me a lot of Backdraft, from the sense of danger to the deft explanations of the technical aspects of the science. Not that you need to know how oil rigs work to enjoy the movie, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

I’m sure Berg took a lot of liberties in the telling of the story, but it felt real, looked real, and sounded real. The visuals and sound are both very important because there are so many explosions and fires, and for the most part, the special effects are seamless. You feel the force of it all, without ever feeling like it’s just CGI.

Sure, there is not much time for character development. That said, you do get a sense of who each character is, though I’m not sure if that’s good writing/directing or just because there are so many recognisable faces. You’ve got Marky Mark and Kurt Russell, of course, as members of the rig team. Kate Hudson plays Marky Mark’s wife, while John Malkovich, as you would expect, plays a dickish BP executive. Gina Rodriguez plays a rig navigation office, and Dylan O’Brien (the lead from the Maze Runner franchise) is member of the drilling team.

In all, Deepwater Horizon is deserving of its “highly underrated” status. Accuracy aside, it’s a shame the film didn’t even make back its budget because it is definitely one of the more spectacular movies of 2016. It’s very hard to pull off a serious disaster movie that is not only gripping but has a bit of heart as well. Berg manages to do it without ever making the film feel exploitative. Definitely worth catching this one if you haven’t already.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Lone Survivor (2013)


Lone Survivor tells the true story of Operation Red Wings, about how a team of Navy SEALS tasked to capture a Taliban leader end up fighting for their lives behind enemy lines. I was curious about the film because it features a very stellar cast headed by Marky Mark Wahlberg, who also produced the film, along with Taylor Kitsch (Battleship, John Carter), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), Ben Foster and Eric Bana. On the other hand, it’s directed by Peter Berg, who has had a very mixed record with previous efforts such as The Kingdom, Hancock and Battleship.

War movies based on true stories are always at risk of becoming glamorized or glorified into recruitment propaganda films, like 2012’s Act of Valor, which was a noble effort and solid from an action perspective but too Team America for my liking. Lone Survivor is better than that, though I still had a lot of problems with it.

For starters, the title of the film is incredibly stupid. I know it’s based on the nonfictionbook of the same name, but couldn’t they have come up with something that’s a bit less of a spoiler? Behind Enemy Lines is already taken, but how about something as simple as Operation Red Wings? Even worse than knowing that only one of the four SEALS survive is that you find out which of the four survives in the film’s very first scene (no prizes for guessing who it is). What it means is that you end up watching the movie expecting three of the SEALS to die, and waiting for the surviving SEAL to be rescued, and that really saps a lot of the excitement and suspense out it.

The first half an hour or so of the film sets the stage by introducing us to the SEALS, showing us how heroic and badass they are by always pushing themselves to the limit without fear. It’s supposed to be building the characters so we get to care about them when they are in mortal danger, but instead those scenes feels more like hastily constructed fillers to pad the screen time to two hours. And consequently, apart from Marky Mark, we don’t really know much about the personalities of any of the other characters apart from a bit of perfunctory and cliched fluff (such as emails and calls home, the photos on the walls, etc).

The action sequences which take up the majority of the film are, I admit, very well executed and for the most part come across as authentic and realistic. The four SEALS take on a lot of heavy fire from Taliban soldiers in difficult terrain, and show just how incredibly skilled, tough, courageous and durable they are. The bone crunching sound effects really add to the visceral thrills and tension, though some of the scenes feel a little over the top, and after a while they start to get repetitive. There’s only so many times I want to see people jump from cliffs and roll down hills while smashing into a lot of things. If I want to see that I’ll just watch this scene from Hot Rod.

By the end of the film, however, the realisation of what the SEALS just went through began to dawn on me, and the final scenes ended up being surprisingly emotional. I don’t want to give away probably the only thing the film’s title hasn’t given away already, so I’ll just leave it there.

My conclusion? Great cast and a few effective and exciting action sequences, but nothing that leaves a lasting impression. Better than Act of Valor, but Zero Dark Thirty this is not.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Battleship (2012)

Gambit and John Carter is now a naval officer battling aliens!

Rising superstar Taylor Kitsch leads an all star cast in Battleship, a sci-fi blockbuster I, admittedly, thought was going to be pure trash when I saw the teaser trailer ages ago. I mean, come on, are we so short on ideas these days that movies now have to be based on board games? Anyway, Kitsch plays Alex Hopper, a bit of a loser who, we are told repeatedly, is a guy high on talent but short on discipline — until he is forced to join the navy by his decorated older brother Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard, the really tall vampire from True Blood). Meanwhile, he has managed to score Andy Roddick’s wife (Brooklyn Decker) as a girlfriend, but the relationship is opposed by her father, the always awesome Liam Neeson, who also happens to be the brothers’ superior.

Whatever. This is essentially a rather pointless backdrop for the real story — the sending of a satellite signal to an earth-like planet far far away, and eventually receiving an unfriendly response in the form of Transformer-like water fighter jets and nasty aliens in metal body suits. Let the battleship games begin! (And yes, they do to some extent replicate the “blind bombing” of the board game)

Look, despite how badly that sounded, Battleship turned out to be a pretty decent piece of popcorn entertainment that harks back to the fun-filled action blockbusters of the late 90s, such as Con Air, Face Off and Armageddon. Like those films, Battleship takes itself “half-seriously” — complete with huge explosions, tough guys pretending to be cool, cheesy dialogue, tongue-in-cheek jokes and groups of people walking towards the camera in slow motion while rock music blares in the background. If you can accept the film for what it is, let go of your brain and just go with the flow, you might end up enjoying the film as much as I did.

Battleship combines white knuckle naval battle action with supreme special effects, making it a great movie to watch on the big screen. All that running and flying around occasionally gets a little muddled with the quick cuts, but for the most part director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Hancock) does an admirable job of keeping the film afloat.

Taylor Kitsch is solid as the confused hero forced to realise his full potential, providing a mix of leading man charm and self-deprecating humour. He’s already been in two blockbusters in 2012 and is set to appear in Oliver Stone’s crime-thriller Savages later this year. The rest do their best with the cookie cutter characters they have been given, with special mention going out to Rihanna for not sticking out like a sore thumb in her debut acting role. She plays an action-based character who doesn’t say a whole lot (definitely a good thing) but she delivers a performance that matches well with the rest of the cast.

At the end of the day, Battleship is unlikely to be remembered as a great, or even good movie, but as far as fun, visual-effects driven action blockbusters go, it’s definitely one of the better ones.

3.75 stars out of 5