Film impresses with breathtaking visuals
What a week for visuals! When it comes to movies that I anticipate to have stunning visuals, I find myself purchasing an IMAX ticket. This week’s entries did not disappoint. “Deepwater Horizon,” directed by Peter Berg, stars Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, John Malkovich and Kurt Russell. Russell is having a renaissance of his own a lá Matthew McConaughey with his recent hits “Bone Tomahawk” and “The Hateful 8,” as well as the upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”
The film is a dramatization of the titular offshore rig disaster that led to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. When British Petroleum supervisors ignored negative test results and prematurely engaged the drilling procedure, a not-so-subtly foreshadowed explosion devastated the rig crew and audience.
Like with “Sully,” a film that depicts the rescue landing of a plane on the Hudson, disaster-centric films such as “Deepwater Horizon” risk having their endings spoiled as we have already experienced the events in the film. Sure, you might say that these films are more for audiences decades in the future to relive the event just as we do with period pieces taking place in the 1970s and 1980s. But to me, it’s to gain perspective and live through the eyes of the protagonists, whether or not the story is accurate. It’s the filmmakers’ responsibility to invoke empathy, just as “Sully” and “Deepwater Horizon” deftly have.
Let me start by saying that I had little enthusiasm toward watching the movie. It seemed like a second rate Michael Bay submission (if that is even possible) helmed by Wahlberg, to whom I am generally impartial. But I was wrong, and quite happy to be. Every contributing performance was emotional, compelling and realistic, apart from some noticeably bad and indistinguishable southern accents that blended together in conversation when laying out crucial elements in the first act.
The real star, however, is Berg. From what I experienced, there were no technical faults I could currently identify. Everything from the visual effects to the sound mixing to the cinematography were all necessary. They were edited flawlessly and blended well together. The explosions were horrifying and realistic to the scenario, even if it was somewhat excessive. The bravery of the men who rescued their coworkers and the trauma they endured were as respectfully handled and as empathetic as the visual tribute appeared during the film’s credits.
Regardless of the slow yet crucial first act that introduced the close connection the rig workers had as a unit, the film is a fast-paced drama that bluntly states that human safety and nature alike should not be the price for profit and greed. I can only do this film justice by giving it an A-, as it takes the third spot of my favorite movies so far this year, after “The Nice Guys” in second and “Hell or High Water” in first.
Only one director comes to mind when I think of films that are visual masterpieces. He encourages in-person viewership in theaters. Some might say Andrei Tarkovsky or Stanley Kubrick hold this responsibility, but their styles are centered more around the intentional detail in every pixel of the frame. Terrence Malick, on the other hand, is responsible for its overall beauty. He’s shown this in “Tree of Life,” “Badlands” and “The Thin Red Line.” His latest visual tour-de-force is “Voyage of Time,” a documentary that covers all, from the blinding lights of the big bang to those of our modern metropolises. There are two versions: a 44-minute short narrated by Brad Pitt and a 1.5-hour extended feature narrated by Cate Blanchett.
Written by Malick himself, the narrators ponder the meaning of age, the necessity of death and mankind’s growth — and yet, I could not care less. This “documentary” had little substance in both frequency and intrigue; it is just an excuse for Malick to go to the most picturesque, exotic and beautiful places in the world. From underwater shots of the deep ocean to the plains of the safari to the masterfully generated images of the universe, he created a visual marvel unparalleled by any film.
I heard complaints in the theater afterward that “it wasn’t about anything” and “it’s just a bunch of nature shots.” Well, so what if it is? These shots take your breath away. Each transition to the next shot angered you because you wanted the former to linger for just a little bit longer. Every close-up and establishing shot justifies watching this in IMAX — as it is also your only choice. I can’t resist giving this masterpiece an A, even though, as a documentary, it is at most a C+. Whether or not there was thematic cohesion is irrelevant to me — I just stared in awe as a moth would to a flame.