Peter Berg

Stronger

11/12/17

This film makes an interesting companion piece to Patriots Day, in that both movies cover the same event – the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon. But where Peter Berg’s offering concentrates on the hunt for the perpetrators of the crime, Stonger opts to focus on one of the bombing’s victims: twenty six year old Jeff Bauman, who had the misfortune to be standing too close to the rucksack that held one of the homemade explosive devices.

When we first encounter him, just days before the bombing, Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal) has recently split from his girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany) and is doing everything he can to encourage her to come back to him. When he hears that she is planning to run the Boston Marathon, he dutifully turns up on the day carrying a homemade placard to show his support… and moments later, loses both his legs in the bomb blast. When Erin spots his blood-spattered face on a TV report, she hurries to the hospital, where Jeff’s dysfunctional family, headed by his mother, Patty (an almost unrecognisable Miranda Richardson) are already gathered, waiting for him to come back to consciousness. Erin finds herself inexorably drawn into being his carer/companion, even moving into the little apartment that he shares with his mother – but as his long, slow recovery begins, it’s apparent that Jeff still has a lot of issues to come to terms with; and it doesn’t help that the people of Boston constantly  want to celebrate him as a homegrown hero…

David Gordon Green’s film expertly walks a perilous tightrope. This powerfully affecting story could so easily have descended into pure corn, but the fact that it doesn’t is only one of its many strengths. The script (by John Pollono, based on Jeff Bauman’s book), refuses to turn its lead character into the hero figure that the people of Boston so evidently want him to be. There’s no rose-tinted glasses here. Jeff is presented as a feckless, often selfish individual, with a self-destructive personality – and a similar ‘warts-and-all’ approach is taken with the various family members who weigh in to lend  their support with all the finesse of a herd of stampeding elephants.

Gyllenhall’s performance is superbly affecting (here’s yet another movie which I viewed mostly through a fog of cascading tears), while anyone who has watched her assay multiple roles in Orphan Black will know what to expect from the very talented Maslany. Miranda Richardson’s turn as the boozy, hapless Patty is also beautifully judged. Suffice to say that the various mutterings about the film’s Oscar potential may not be entirely misplaced. But who knows? Oscar can be a notoriously fickle beast.

Stronger is ultimately a film about the process of healing. I loved its honesty and passion and though it keeps its most shocking images for later on in the proceedings, when they do arrive, in a series of brilliantly edited flashbacks, it doesn’t hold back.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Deepwater Horizon

deepwater-horizon-movie-reviews

03/10/16

The name is synonymous with one of the worst industrial accidents of all time. In April 2010, the titular drilling rig suffered a catastrophic explosion that spilled millions of tonnes of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, causing untold damage to the eco-system. The environmental impact was unprecedented – but Peter Berg’s film is much more concerned with the human story behind the disaster. One hundred and twenty six crew members worked aboard the Deepwater Horizon and, sadly, not all of them lived to tell the story.

The events are seen largely from the POV of engineer Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg). We first join him at his home, shortly before he leaves for an eventful three-week shift on the drilling platform and we catch his interplay with his wife, Felicia (Kate Hudson) and his young daughter, Sydney (Stella Allen). Barely ten minutes in, we care about him. And then we’re aboard the rig, watching as he goes about his daily routine, exchanging pleasantries with the other crew members and noting the concerns of safety officer, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), who feels that safety checks are being ignored because the drilling is forty three days behind schedule, something that’s encouraged by BP executive, Vidrine (John Malkovich, playing a character almost as oily as the stuff the crew are drilling for). Of course, history tells us that something went badly wrong and the suspense racks steadily up to the moment when it actually does.

From here on, we’re in disaster movie territory, as all hell breaks loose. It’s a horribly immersive experience and there’s barely time to draw breath as the crew run desperately around the rig, trying to stay alive. Strangely, it’s only after the blitzkrieg of special effects is over that the emotions are hit – there’s a key scene here that had me filling up and it will be a stony individual indeed, who doesn’t feel similarly compelled.

Ultimately, Deepwater Horizon is a tale of heroism – both Williams and Harrell went far beyond what might have been expected of people in such circumstances. It also makes for a thrilling cinematic experience. As the credits roll, we see the real people behind the story, who – surprise, surprise – are nothing like as photogenic as the actors who portray them, but it drives home the fact that this is a true story, where once again corporate greed puts profits above human lives.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney