Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon floored me. Combining stirring heroics, meticulous procedural reconstruction, thundering big style special effects and a rock steady, salt of the earth cast who fire on all cylinders, Berg and team have successfully sent one of, if not the best films this year down the pipe (oily pun intended). The 2010 disaster aboard the mammoth Deepwater Horizon oil rig was a tragic, foolish and achingly avoidable event that was the product of carelessness, stupidity and resulted in the unnecessary death of eleven souls. Berg clearly weeps for the loss, and every frame of his film is filled with empathy and compassion, a reluctant condemnation of the Big Oil company men whose actions led to life lost, a rock jawed testamenr to the blue collar heroes who gave shot rays of hope through the darkest day with their brave deeds, and a celebration of the rip roaring set pieces possible in telling this story. Mark Whalberg has never, ever been better, playing the engineering honcho of te Deepwater, madly in love with his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter (Stella Allen) The early scenes build their relationship with near effortless interactions and a thoughtful, compassionate eye. From the minute his chopper touches down on the rig and it becomes clear that safety protocol has been grossly neglected, he is a bundle of nerves and fears for every life on board above his own. Kurt Russell is right alongside him as a dogged senior operative with a short rope and no time for the headstrong, greedy and unprofessional actions of Big Oil honcho John Malkovich, giving his best, and insipid work in years as a guy who plainly and simply doesn’t care, putting everyone in harm’s way in the process. The best and most surprising performance of the film comes from Gina Rodriguez though, an actress who has mostly swam under my radar up until this point. Playing another senior engineer, her raw terror and naked uncertainty in the face of looming calamity and possible death is rough to watch, uterly convincing and made me want to just give her a big hug. If her work here is any indication of where she’s headed, make way folks, because we’re in for great things. The cast also extends into terrific further work from Ethan Suplee, J.D. Evermore, James Dumont, Dylan O Brien, Berg himself in a quick cameo, and many more. 2010Berg wisely wraps the story up not with one final action sequence, but with a hair raising emotional gut punch that tallies the loss of life and psychological damage of such an event with the care required. There is one final action beat to then story, but it’s swift, necessary and sensible, never feeling overblown. The story is kept wisely focused on the people trapped aboard this explosion waiting to happen, their struggles and efforts in the forefront. When the fireworks do show up, they’re not to shock and awe the audience, or for cheap thrills, they serve only to illustrate such an event in a minimal fashion, which is still a deafening roar. My kind of disaster/procedural story, and one of the best so far this year.
Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me is one of the most flat out disturbing films ever made under the sun, even if only for a few brief, harrowing sequences encased in a lurid, laconic, southern fried oddity of a story that defies genre confinement while still planting vague roots in crime drama. When the sequences I speak of show up, and you’ll know exactly when, it takes you right off guard and immediately notifies you that the film has no intentions of towing a line within anyone’s comfort zone. It’s an odd story for someone to strive to tell, and one wonders what inky black corners of the psyche that Jim Thompson was spellunking in when he scribed the novel on which this is based. It starts off conventionally enough, under the prosperous sun of the West Texas desert in the heat of the 1950’s. Sheriff’s Deputy Lou Ford (Casey Affleck) is a regular enough guy, tasked with rousing a local prostitute (Jessica Alba) living in nearby suburbia. He also deals with the dodgy real estate kingpin Chester Conway (a blustery Ned Beatty) and his cronies. He’s also got a cute fiance (Kate Hudson). He’s calm, cool and connected, right up until the part where he turns out to be a certifiable grade murdering psychopath. Affleck let’s the authoritarian composure bleed away and reveal the layers of eveil beneath, until we begin to wonder if the film we are watching has been interrupted by someone taping over it with something far darker. But no… it’s the same movie. It just veers into territory we didn’t expect and may be taken aback by. Affleck discovers the psychopath within himself, and fits inside the characteristics like a glove. The first person to stray into his path is Alba, and there’s a sequence where he gives her a royal, merciless, and bloody beatdown that will shiver your spine in its blunt, head-on realism. It’s seriously stomach churning shit, and levels off both the film and Affleck’s role in pure stone cold seriousness. He’s a budding lunatic, made all the more dangerous by bis position of power within law enforcement and shielded by his trustworthy reputation. The film resists generic story beats, and instead meanders about, diligently following Affleck from encounter to macabre encounter, discovering his dark interior nature without much rhyme or reason as far as conventional plot goes. This has a wickedly prolific cast for such a risky film, with fine work from Bill Pullman, Brent Briscoe, Tom Bower, Simon Baker and the ever reliable Elias Koteas who adds to the cumulative unease. It’s Affleck’s shown though, and he splinters nerves with his unpredictable, hollow and fascinating portrait of a psychopath. Soon we begin to wonder what he sees and heats is real, as characters he interacts with seem to come back from the dead and knowingly coach him towards trouble in trademark indications of serious mental distrbance. This one arrives at it’s end severely south of where it started from, taking the viewer off guard. Those who appreciate the tantalizing, prickly nature of a thriller that isn’t afraid to seriously shake up your shit and take you places you’ve only been to on clammy nightmares will appreciate it. Just mentally psych yourself up for that scene I mentioned, because it will scar you and then some.