Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg take true stories and carve them into personal tales of heroism. The tales they choose aren't lovely ribbon tied stories where the heroes defeated the bad guys easily and rode off into the sunset.
In the case of Marcus Luttrell in Operation Red Wing, the Navy Seal mission gone wrong tale at the base of "Lone Survivor", he crawled away and needed the good grace of natives to protect him from deadly Afghanistan mercenaries.
In the case of Mike Williams on Deepwater Horizon during the worst oil spill in United States history, it was saving as many lives as he could and making it out alive to get home to his family.
In the case of Sgt. Tommy Saunders in the Boston Marathon bombing, the tale of a city coming together in January's Patriots Day, it was about finding the bad guys before they did more damage to his city.
Berg and Wahlberg's heroes are thrown into the middle of chaos and find a way to make it out alive. Their films carry a blunt-force-trauma energy to the action. They are relentless, but are not without subtlety and grace in evoking pride for their heroes at the center of the tale.
When I walked out of "Lone Survivor" a few years back, I needed a minute. It was a pulverizing, out-of-body experience to watch Luttrell and the three other Navy Seals literally shoot their way out of danger and simply try to survive. These were real men with families waiting for them at home. Luttrell consulted on the film and wouldn't let any other director in Hollywood touch his story until he met Berg.
Right then, he knew he found the right guy to tell this story.
There was a similar feeling with "Horizon". A visceral effect as you left the theater, dazed with the shock from the details of that terribly traumatic day off the Gulf Coast. The BP executives playing ruthless commerce mind games with their oil drillers, resulting in catastrophe that cost 11 people their lives.
Wahlberg was the point man, giving Williams a soulful poignancy that resonated with viewers trying to put the pieces together. The real Williams' testimony served as the bookends for the film, and Wahlberg took care of the rest inside.
Berg doesn't run a single play without Wahlberg, his everyman engine, at the center of the action. If the actor is Tom Brady, Berg is Bill Belichick. They work the best when they deal with stories that scare other directors away. Apart, they may not be great. Together, they are better than most.
Take the trailer for "Patriots Day" for example. Released Wednesday night, the brief preview doesn't sensationalize the horror of the day. It doesn't show point blank renderings of the bombings or the carnage of the victims(at least not yet).
It puts its emphasis on the bond that Boston formed that day. The way they came together in order to catch the bad guys who crippled their city. That is what Berg can do. Everything comes from the heart with his films. He makes you feel it.
Sure, the bombing happened just over three years ago. Maybe it is too soon.
Wahlberg's hometown newspaper the Boston Globe, reported the actor told an audience at the Toronto Film Festival, he had mixed feelings about doing the film because he understood that people around Boston were conflicted about the project. In the end, he said, he didn’t want the story in the wrong hands and it wasn’t too soon for the movie to be made.
In the right hands, true stories get their justice. Berg and Wahlberg may not own any Oscars for their efforts, but their ability to transcend a few of the black eyes in the history of the United States into passionate heartfelt filmmaking deserves recognition.
If you haven't seen "Lone Survivor", rent it now. It's a true experience. If you haven't seen Deepwater Horizon, check it out in theaters. Patriots Day arrives in a few months. Get ready to have your heart thumped.
When it comes to true stories done right, Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg are Hollywood's blue collar dream team.