Safety Dance

Deepwater Horizon

by George Wolf

With a nice throwback vibe, crackling tension and terrific ensemble acting, Deepwater Horizon is a surprisingly compelling package. Director Peter Berg, surpassing his similar work with Lone Survivor three years ago, is again all about making sure a tragic true-life tale is told with proper respect for the heroes involved.

This tragedy was the worst in U.S. oil .drilling history, as the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana in 2010, killing 11 crew members and exposing a scandalous gap in safety protocols from BP.

Berg, armed with a crisp, economical script from Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, introduces us to the souls involved with a rapid succession of quick vignettes from their day, just hours just before boarding the rig. Mike (Mark Wahlberg, as good as he’s ever been) gets frisky with his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson), while Andrea (Gina Rodriquez from TV’s Jane the Virgin) can’t get her car started and has to hitch a ride to the airport from her boyfriend, and so on.

Snapshots of crew members’ lives crisscross each other, and the film needs minimal screen time to get us invested in multiple personalities. This is a roadblock for scores of films that Berg and his writers sweep away. They give us people to care about, and they increase the chance that events to come will resonate. Extra points for providing helpful primers on drilling practices in ways that feel organic, such as Mike’s daughter rehearsing a classroom presentation.

The tension builds steadily, with a single bubble of air escaping from an undersea drill line, and leads to a spectacularly staged string of explosions that engulf the entire structure. Berg has long shown his skill as a tactician, and here he gets us breathtakingly close to the chaos with an authenticity that’s refreshingly unencumbered by CGI effects.

You may be reminded of more recent movies (especially Wahlberg’s own The Perfect Storm), but Deepwater Horizon has a retro kinship with classic disaster films of the 70s, along with an in-the-moment humanity that salutes the real players whose lives hung in the balance.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

Fundamentally Flawed

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

By Hope Madden

“Have you ever been brought a split second of pleasure at arrogance brought low?”

This line and the moments in The Reluctant Fundamentalist preceding it require the skill of a nimble actor; one who has not yet betrayed his character’s allegiances or true nature and who can balance what’s been revealed with what has yet to be unearthed.

Riz Ahmed is not that actor.

He’s proven his mettle in previous efforts – most ably in the dark comedy Four Lions – but he can’t rise above the condescending tone director Mira Nair creates as his character – Pakistani born, Princeton educated Changez – spins an enlightening tale to an American journalist (Liev Schreiber).

The son of a poet, Changez grew up hungry for the financial opportunities offered by the American dream, but chasing that dream during the upheaval of 9/11 caused him to rethink his priorities, his heritage, and his relationship with the US. Back in Pakistan, he finds himself a person of CIA interest when his white colleague at the university is abducted.

An international thriller seems an odd choice for Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake), but the tender, internal complications of a culture clash are certainly in her wheelhouse. Unfortunately, she does not deliver the tempo of a thriller, and her cast underwhelms with the emotional turmoil.

Nair’s team of screenwriters reworked Mohsin Hamid’s novel, clarifying ambiguities, patronizing characters and audience alike, and generally strangling the prose into submission. The film is after the element of audacity in the author’s work, but neglects the underlying earnestness that earns it.

The cast doesn’t help much. Ahmed may be in over his head, but Kate Hudson fails entirely. Her grieving lover unready for a relationship feels more like an intellectually stunted, artistically talentless flirt who’s only just awakened from a nap.

The usually reliable Schreiber has little opportunity, but his final image dooms his performance as well. Meanwhile, Keifer Sutherland is miscast and Nelsan Ellis once again settles for stereotype rather than character.

Characteristically, Nair mines the work for unexpected humor, which helps the film keep an unsure footing. Given the story being told and lessons being learned, this is an important victory. Her visual flair adds vibrancy to the sometimes dry story as well, and there are elements of Hamid’s work that still shine brightly enough to command your attention throughout the film’s running time.

Plus, let’s be honest, as culture clash and terrorism on film go, at least it’s not Java Heat.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfC45oq_drU