REVIEW: Patriots Day

15 04 2017

The narrative elements of “Patriots Day” show Peter Berg at the top of his game. As a film that recreates the terror of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the frenzied search to catch the perpetrators, it’s every bit as taught and harrowing as “Lone Survivor.” Critique ideology all you want – and I had my fair share of issues with the comforting yet alarming deployment of the surveillance state – but objectively speaking, Berg and his technicians know how to edit for maximum tension around an event whose outcome we already know.

Now, you might have noticed that I specified “narrative elements.” That was intentional. “Patriots Day” ends on a lengthy postscript of talking-head style documentary footage with survivors of the bombing. It’s stirring, sure, but it left me wondering – why not just make a non-fiction film? The appetite for documentaries exists now thanks to platforms like Netflix and HBO.

In “Patriots Day,” fictionalization began to feel like trivialization. If the words of real people are powerful enough to end a film, they ought to be powerful enough to sustain a film. Why does Berg think we need Mark Wahlberg sermonizing from the back of a truck bed over sappy, inspiring music to care about the heroism of Boston’s finest? Why does he feel the need to compress the valiant actions of several police officers into one composite, Teddy Saunders, for Mark Wahlberg to play?

Berg tries to have it both ways in the film, leaning on both the authenticity of the survivors’ pain while also shoehorning reality into a convenient narrative device about one police officer who cracks open the case with a hobbled leg. (At times, his lickety-split reactions don’t even make logical sense!) If recent yanked from the headlines stories are going to continue to serve as fodder for cinema, we need to have a larger debate about how filmmakers can and cannot rely on actual participants. B+

Advertisements




REVIEW: Deepwater Horizon

28 09 2016

deepwater-horizonPeter Berg has a knack for directing blue collar dialogue in a convincing manner. For films like his 2013 survival drama “Lone Survivor,” such exchanges lent the film an authenticity and humanity before its Navy Seals face life-threatening trials. In Berg’s latest directorial outing, “Deepwater Horizon,” the commonplace banter feels more like a counterweight to some of the complex oil industry jargon taking place on a Gulf Coast rig.

For much of the film’s first 40 minutes, the screenplay from Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan overloads with technical terms explaining the operations on the Deepwater Horizon. And even with blatant expository scenes, they still have to dole out some more details in subtitles. It’s wasted air space in the film, which foreshadows the well-known explosion with obvious harbingers of doom. Be it an exploding Coke at the home of protagonist Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) or a BP big wig wearing a tie in the color of their worst level alarm, there’s no denying what’s coming.

Berg sets up “Deepwater Horizon” as an disaster flick, yet he fouls up some key ratios in establishing tension and connection. His energy goes disproportionately to setting up the crisis (roughly 50 minutes), which in turn makes the escape (roughly 35-40 minutes) feels like getting short changed. There’s some decent tension as wounded crew members navigate their way through a literal enactment of the burning platform metaphor, but Berg undermines it with weak characterization and pointless cutaways to Kate Hudson as Mike’s grieving wife back at home.

The film takes an interesting turn in the coda where surviving workers from the Deepwater Horizon rig are greeted in their grief by robotic crisis management professionals. Rather than seeking to ease their pain and embrace the souls who survive, BP adds a thin coat of dehumanization on top of a devastating loss of human life by locking them away from the world in anonymous hotel rooms. These scenes of the battered, tattered employees struggling to cope with the events that just occurred frustratingly dangle the potential “Deepwater Horizon” had in front of us. Were the critique of corporate malfeasance not so toothless, or were the rising action of the film built around developed characters, this lack of resolution might really sting. Instead, it just replicates the numbness of the setting. C+2stars





REVIEW: Lone Survivor

29 01 2014

There’s no sugar-coating or sanitization of the conflict in Afghanistan to be found in Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor.”  His adaptation of Marcus Luttrell’s memoir of pulls no punches in its visceral portrayal of the unlikely triumph of one man over relentless enemies and harsh earth.

Despite the film’s ultimate resolution being implied in the title, the action is always gripping and engrossing.  Berg’s riveting handheld camerawork ensures that we’re buckled in to feel every moment leading up to the climax.  Every fall down a cliff, every bullet entry wound piercing flesh, and every last dying breath lands deeply in the gut with tremendous force.  When coupled with masterfully precise sound mixing and editing, “Lone Survivor” has the impact of a film like “127 Hours.”

It’s not all about the action, however.  Perhaps the biggest testament the effectiveness of Berg’s multifaceted approach to “Lone Survivor” is that the film’s most nail-biting scene comes not in combat but in a moral debate.  As Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) and his SEAL recon team (Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster) weight the respective merits of killing three of their prisoners to save their own hide or letting them go and risking their own lives, a quintessential problem for America in contemporary geopolitics becomes an immediately necessary quandary to mull over.

Read the rest of this entry »