Deepwater Horizon (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
Peter Berg’s telling of the largest offshore oil spill in United States history translates into a compelling watch because sentimentality is kept at a minimum, it offers just the right amount of disaster movie elements without sacrificing realism and intelligence, and the director makes a smart choice in spending some time to allow the viewers to understand, and appreciate, what the disparate jobs in the oil rig entail.
We get the impression that we are simply watching people respond to a terrifying, life or death situation. Although there are numerous acts of heroism once the oil rig begins to fall apart, humanism is highlighted behind and despite such actions. The picture makes a point in the first half that these are men and women who have and must have strong professional relationships even though they pull one another’s leg from time to time. Thus, when someone’s life is in danger, it is not about simply saving a stranger. It’s about saving one’s friends who also have lives outside of what they do at sea.
Special and visual effects are highly convincing to the point where it is difficult to discern between, for instance, what is actual fire versus one produced using a computer. One of the standout scenes involves Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and Drill Crew Floorhand Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) making their way to the other side of the rig in order to shut down a certain mechanism with the hope of avoiding to risk more lives. The seizure-like shaking of the ground they can barely stand on, the blasts of fire seemingly wanting to engulf their bodies whole, and the metallic debris falling all around them work together to create top-notch suspense, thrills, and engagement.
A director who does not understand how to helm an action film might have turned such a sequence, and others like it, into an incomprehensible mess where camera shaking is gravely mistaken as a proper substitute for timing and execution. Berg has an eye for framing movement—the characters in relation to the objects around them—and so our eyes always tend to focus on what we should be paying attention to, thereby avoiding confusion and, worse, headaches. It is easy to take for granted moviemakers who understand how to control nearly every element in seemingly pandemonium-packed action scenes.
But the best scenes, arguably, are the ones that simply take place in a room and there is a war between ideas. Kurt Russell, playing Offshore Installation Manager Jimmy Harrell, and John Malkovich, portraying BP Executive Donald Vidrine, have a solid handle on the dialogue. Nearly every look, body movement, and intonation of words are purposeful. So when the two men clash on how to proceed with their jobs, it is quite enthralling. Sure, we are supposed to take the side of Harrell, but we believe that Vidrine is convinced that what he knows, and therefore the path of action he wishes to take, is right. The script treats everyone as intelligent and so we wish to know what they have to say and why they think that way.
“Deepwater Horizon” is not for viewers must see an action sequence every ten to fifteen minutes. The movie, however, is for those who want to see a realistic interpretation of what did or might have happened during that tragic night on April 20, 2010 that could have been avoided altogether if greed had not gotten in the way of following protocol, if corporate monetary gains weren’t valued over human lives.
Lone Survivor (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
A four-man reconnaissance team (Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster) is assigned capture and kill Ahmad Shah, a Taliban leader known to have murdered U.S. Marines. Though the four manage to reach an area in the mountains where they are able to track the person of interest, they learn that comms are down and are eventually discovered by goat herders—an old man, a teenager, and a little boy. The group is divided when it comes to what to do with them, but Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy (Kitsch) decides to let them go as he and his brothers in action race to the peak of the mountain to establish communication and request rescue.
Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” is a success in that it highlights rather than glorifies what soldiers do by showing the ugly, the messy, and the painful. In this case, first impression proves misleading. I found the expository scenes to be too shiny and beautiful with typical exchanges of tough males bonding and men racing to the finish line as the sun rises. It all feels too much like a commercial or a recruitment video and I was expecting the worst. But once it reaches somewhere near the twenty-minute mark, it gets the tone just right. Finally, it is on the right track with what it wants to show.
The picture is at its peak during the action sequences. When it is silent in the woods and the crosshairs of a weapon search for a kill shot, sans distracting score meant to amplify already tense moments, it is most magnetic because only one of two things can happen: the shot is either going to hit the target or it is going to miss. Either way, his friends are going to know that their enemy is near so that bullet better make contact because it would mean one less person shooting back. Odds do not look good when it comes to four against twenty or more—even if the former are highly trained.
The environment is alive. Yes, the Taliban is the enemy but so are sharp rocks, great heights, and slippery gravel. In one of the most harrowing sequences, Murphy and his men decide to jump off a cliff. It is impressive because the terrifying sounds are able to match the intense images. Bodies rolling down a slope as limbs and faces hit tree trunks, branches, smaller boulders, and their own weapons invoke horror—not horror in terms but fear but horror in terms of shock. To escape from their enemies, these men are willing to jump off a cliff without even thinking twice about it. Because so many hazards are on the way, they could have died even before hitting the bottom.
The title reveals the inevitable and so each of the three deaths must count. And they do. Despite the screenplay not offering much in terms of subtle characterization, the men that will fall are easy to distinguish physically and in general personality. Since Murphy is the leader, I expected him to get most of the attention. On the contrary, his men—Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg), Danny Dietz (Hirsch), and Matt Axelson (Foster), arguably, get a bit more opportunities to shine. That is a small but nice surprise.
“Lone Survivor” does not set a standard by any means but it is engaging, entertaining, and sad once one is reminded that it is based on a true story. Though liberties are likely to have been taken in order to dramatize certain accounts, I could not help but think of real sacrifices that real soldiers make out there.
Last Seduction, The (1994)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino) was slapped by her husband, Clay (Bill Pullman), for calling him stupid. So, while he was in the shower, Bridget took Clay’s drug money of over five hundred thousand dollars, left New York City, changed her name to Wendy, and settled in a small town. There, she met Mike (Peter Berg), a man who was recently divorced, in a bar. Convinced that the repercussions of her recent thievery was far from over, Wendy figured that she could use Mike to get away with the money once and for all. Written by Steve Barancik and directed by John Dahl, “The Last Seduction” was a sexy, smart, and fast-paced neo-noir with an edgy main character. The film made all the men in the film look completely idiotic which had very amusing results. I didn’t think it was unfair because how many times have movies made women look like complete bimbos? It was easy to label Wendy as “evil” because she was not above committing murder to get what she wanted. I argue that if she was a man who wore dark shades and a black suit when she schemed, she would be considered as “cool.” I perceived her as a survivor with a sharp tongue. In some ways, she reminded me of myself. When Wendy met Mike and she bluntly told him that she wasn’t interested, he bragged that she was missing out because he was as hung as a horse. Instead of allowing the conversation to end, she called him over and insisted that he showed her what he was so proud of. I had a laugh because I would have done the same. She was the kind of person who liked to push the envelope and, if necessary, make someone question his self-confidence. She had her own way of getting to know a person. The dark comedy worked because two completely opposite characters took center stage. Mike liked to discuss sensitive things like feelings and have deep conversations. Wendy just wouldn’t have it. It wasn’t like she didn’t want anyone to know her. She was just rarely in the mood. When Mike confessed that he felt like a sex object, Bridget suggested that he lived it up. What I admired most about the movie was the balance between the twisted relationship and the stolen money. Fiorentino’s fiery performance allowed the two spheres to converge without resulting to painful typicalities like a shootout in the end or someone drastically changing the way he or she saw the world. In reality, people don’t really change all that much despite personal crises. The screenplay was focused in naturally allowing the characters’ behaviors to speak for themselves. I relished “The Last Seduction” because it was stripped of sentimentality. Its bravado in turning gender roles on its head was both charming and unexpectedly hilarious.