Peter Berg is hardly a typical Hollywood liberal. He didn’t appear in any of those precious “Save the Day” videos prior to the election. Nor did he pen an “open letter” letting us know exactly how he felt about Donald Trump’s surprise victory on November 8, 2016. Though his politics lean left — four years ago he excoriated the Romney/Ryan ticket for plagiarizing a catchphrase from his TV series Friday Night Lights — he may be the most red state-friendly director working in Hollywood.
Berg’s new film, Patriot’s Day, offers a beautiful testament to the men and women who rallied after the sickening Boston Marathon terror attack in 2013. It’s just the latest entry in an increasingly traditional filmography.
Before Patriot’s Day, there was Deepwater Horizon, which dramatized the oil-rig disaster that claimed the lives of eleven Americans in 2010. The film underperformed at the box office, but viewers will appreciate Berg’s take on the tragedy for years to come.
Yes, the meltdown is given its close-up, as Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell go through their action-hero paces. But it’s what precedes the debacle that matters. Berg records the workers’ daily routines with an eye toward the smallest details: the playful banter, the monotonous routines, the bursts of humor, and the sleepy-eyed stares at the start of another work day. These are the Americans who keep the country running. They very rarely get a thank-you from anyone, let alone a fancy movie director. Yet they’re just the kinds of characters Berg loves.
Take Lone Survivor, the film he made before Deepwater Horizon. Hollywood had mostly ignored the U.S.’s fight against the Taliban until Berg brought Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s best-seller to the big screen. Berg’s 2013 adaptation showcased the heroism of Luttrell’s fellow SEALs while portraying Taliban barbarism in an unblinking fashion.
Lone Survivor wasn’t propaganda; it was a tribute to heroes like those Hollywood used to produce with regularity. It was the kind of film Berg was made for, and the kind of film he’s returned to with Patriot’s Day. The January 13 release stars Wahlberg (again) as a cop caught up in the Boston Marathon melee. It’s an ensemble thriller that feels like a documentary at times. That’s Berg the auteur, a storyteller with as much skill as his better-known peers.
The film itself continues Berg’s personal style. Wahlberg’s cop isn’t a blustery hero. He’s as overwhelmed as everyone else when the bombs go off, and at one point he even breaks down, allowing grief to wash over him in a powerful scene. But he focuses on the job at hand, because a proud city and the lives of its inhabitants are at stake.
It’s no accident that the signature achievement of Berg’s career, Friday Night Lights, proved a respectful vision of small-town USA. The long-running TV show, spun off from his 2004 movie of the same name, didn’t ignore Middle America’s flaws but made sure to salute its common decency.
Hollywood isn’t completely devoid of such blue-collar subject matter, of course. Recent Oscar hopeful Manchester by the Sea, for example, follows a handyman dealing with a loss that would cripple most souls. But that film’s focus is on healing, rather than the quiet dignity of a job well done. The latter territory is where Berg shines, over and again.
#related#Conservatives understandably rail against Hollywood for the industry’s stubborn biases. Hollywood liberals aren’t all alike, though. Ashton Kutcher is a proud liberal who has used his soapbox to extol the values of hard work and capitalism. He even crafted the Netflix comedy The Ranch as a way to reach out, respectfully to “flyover country.”
Like Kutcher, Berg probably won’t be making Trump reelection videos in four years. In fact, he might just write a massive check to whoever squares off against the sitting president in 2020. But here’s hoping that regardless, he’ll keep making movies that speak to an America his peers rarely acknowledge, let alone salute.