Masterminds • Deep Water
Horizon • Birth Of A Nation
October 6, 2016
Based on True Events:
Masterminds (** 1/2)
Deepwater Horizon (***)
Two recent film releases covering headline-making events can now be found in local multiplexes. One of these is based on a story that made local headlines nearly twenty years ago and will certainly ring familiar to anyone who was living in or near this area in the fall of 1997 while the other depicts events from less than decade ago that still resonate and will for some time to come.
Masterminds is based on the true crime caper involving the theft of over a ton of cash by a down-on-his-luck security guard from Kings Mountain, NC named David Ghantt. The case still remains one of the largest robberies in US history.
Kurt Russell in Deep Water Horizon
Ghantt’s plan was to steal the money and high tail it to Mexico while waiting on former co-worker Kelly Campbell, who instigated the plan, to join him there and share in the bounty. What Ghantt didn’t know was that Campbell had no intentions to join him and the plan was merely a way for Ghantt to score the money for Campbell and her lover, Steve Chambers.
Masterminds plays up the comedy angle in a very broad way with actors Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis filling the aforementioned roles of, respectively, Ghantt, Campbell, Chambers and the hit man sent to exterminate Ghantt. As directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite), the film is funny enough in spots but tends to run out of steam before it reaches its conclusion. Still, Masterminds has enough good will to keep it going and to get a reserved recommendation from yours truly. You may laugh quite a bit as long as you aren’t looking for sophisticated humor.
Deepwater Horizon on the other hand is a solid dramatization of the devastating oil spill that occurred off the coast of Louisiana in April 2010.
Zach Galifinakis, Owen Wilson & Kristen Wiig in Masterminds
The Deepwater Horizon of the film’s title, which was a floating oil rig, literally exploded and took the lives of nearly a dozen crew members in the process and also sent an enormous mount of oil into the water before its containment.
Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell head the rig’s crew in the film while John Malkovich, doing what he does best, represents the corporate interests of BP. The opening section of the film is a bit draggy but once director Peter Berg restages the actual explosion-which is quite a doozy-it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement of the film even if its subject is a a modern tragedy.
If there’s a quibble to made then it would be that Berg and company don’t do enough finger pointing at the true culprits responsible for this horrific event but the film is so well staged that it’s easy to forgive it for what it doesn’t achieve. It may be a surface level exploration of those events but it’s still a rousing one to be sure.
Birth of a Nation (***)
The devil is in the details, so the old adage goes. If that’s true then director/writer/star Nate Parker probably should have considered bringing an exorcist on to the set of his much-anticipated feature Birth of a Nation. The film is a biopic of Nat Turner, who led a massive slave revolt in August 1861 that resulted in nearly 60 casualties. For a film that depends on accurate depictions of the type of backbreaking labor that slaves were forced to endure it’s hard not to give a film a few demerits when characters are seen with perfectly trimmed facial hair and freshly manicured hands as they pick cotton and such.
Thankfully, the tale that’s being told is such a powerful one that it manages to override any of the technical sloppiness that could easily have bogged down the film. That may be a testament to the story itself or a testament to Parker and his cinematic coconspirators. I’ll let you be the judge of that. Either way it works in spite of its shortcomings.
This is a film with scenes of great power once it gains its footing in the second half after a bit of a sluggish beginning. The early section deals with Nat’s childhood and eventual ownership by Samuel and Elizabeth Turner (Armie Hammer and Penelope Ann Miller).
Nate Parker in Birth of a Nation
The Turners are, for at least the first half of the film, benevolent owners with Elizabeth having taught Nat how to read as a child. As a result of Nat’s semi education he manages to gain a reputation as a preacher. Later, Samuel will use Nat’s preaching skills as a way to keep the other slaves in check, which doesn’t say much for Samuel’s character as a human being when you come to think about it.
In the latter half of the film, Nat begins to tire of the injustices that he sees on the plantation and decides it’s time to settle some scores the old fashioned way. It especially hits close to home once his wife is abused and nearly beaten to death. As depicted in the film, this and several other inciting incidents serve as the catalyst for Nat and his fellow slaves to dispatch justice in a variety of physical punishments. It’s a double edged sword because, on the one hand, the film feels as if it’s manipulating its audience even if the revenge and revolt section of the film is certainly justified.
Birth of a Nation is certainly a film that evokes emotions and feelings and for that it deserves some of the pre release attention that it’s been getting. It’s just a shame that Parker isn’t a more capable filmmaker although he isn’t necessarily a bad one, only mediocre. A subject as towering as Nat Turner deserves the best that cinema has to offer and you can’t help but wonder what someone along the lines of Spike Lee would have done with this subject when he was at the height of his powers. I guess we’ll just have to wonder.
The Carmike Theater’s website doesn’t give full information past Thursday, Oct., 6, but all these movies are playing there as of the 6th, and may be playing throughout the area after that date.
Questions or comments? Write Adam at firstname.lastname@example.org.