10 Good Peter Berg Movies

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Fans of television medical dramas will likely remember Peter Berg as Dr. Billy Kronk on Chicago Hope. While he starred in the first five seasons of the series, he also found time to branch out into film. That’s the focus of this article, as we take a look at 10 good Peter Berg movies that feature him as an actor or director.

1. A Midnight Clear (1992) – Directed by Keith Gordon (who you may remember as Jason Melon in Back to School), this soulful combat film is set in the waning days of World War II. A squad of Americans comprised of Berg, Kevin Dillon, Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise and others comes across a platoon of Germans who wish to surrender instead of fighting and dying for a losing cause. This throws both sides together for Christmas, and the lack of hostility allows the former enemies to reach an understanding. But things get complicated by the final act, leading to possible bloodshed between the newfound friends. Based on the novel by William Wharton, this is the rare war film that shows the positive traits of both sides.

The Rundown

2. The Rundown (2003) – I’m always quick to sing the praises of The Rundown, and I maintain that it would be considered an action classic if released a decade earlier. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as Beck, a retrieval expert working off a debt to a crime boss. All Beck really wants to do is open a restaurant, but he has to take one final job before he’s free.

This leads him to the South American town of El Dorado, where he’s expected to apprehend smartass treasure hunter Travis Walker (Seann William Scott) and bring him back to America. But the jungle town is run by Cornelius Hatcher (the predictably quirky Christopher Walker), a ruthless tyrant who’s put all the locals to work mining gold, and he has other plans for Walker.

There are also rebels, a sexy barmaid (Rosario Dawson), henchmen with whips, and lots of horny baboons. The patter between Scott and Johnson is entertaining and natural, and you can actually tell what’s going on during the film’s many fight scenes (an increasing rarity). The opening scene features Beck taking on multiple pro football players in a club, while the climactic battle puts the Harry Gregson-Williams score to good use and reveals why Beck never carries a gun. When it comes to action movies, I give The Rundown my highest recommendation.

3. The Last Seduction (1994) – Take out all the nudity and cursing, and this steamy film would fit right in with the noir classics of the ’40s and ’50s. Still, these elements give this John Dahl (Rounders) project a lurid quality that would’ve made Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum blush. Berg stars as Mike Swale, an excitement-starved guy who gets more than he bargained for following a tryst with Bridget Gregory (Linda Fiorentino), a sociopathic sexpot on the run with $700,000 in cash. Fiorentino oozes sin as she slinks from one scene to the next, reducing every male character she encounters to a simpering pile of hormones. Bill Pullman co-stars as her drug-dealing husband with two broken thumbs (courtesy of loan sharks).

4. Friday Night Lights (2004) – First came Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, the 1990 novel from H.G. Bissinger about the unusual importance of high school football in Odessa, Texas. Next came the film adaptation of the book, which was directed by Berg (who happens to be Bissinger’s cousin) and spawned the NBC series of the same name. Billy Bob Thornton stars as Gary Gaines, the charismatic coach whose job depends on the success of his players. But there’s plenty of teen angst to deal with, much of which is aggravated by parents obsessed with winning the state championship. Also starring Lucas Black, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, and Jay Hernandez.

5. The Great White Hype (1996) – While it’s not as funny as I’d hoped, this satirical sports comedy is still a must-see for fans of boxing. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Rev. Fred Sultan, a corrupt boxing promoter who’s obviously meant to channel Don King. His current gravy train is James “The Grim Reaper” Roper (Damon Wayans), the heavyweight champion of the world. But Sultan realizes that the public is tired of seeing black athletes beat on each other, so he goes looking for a white contender. Enter Terry Conklin (Peter Berg), a dimwitted musician who once defeated Roper in their amateur days. The cast includes Jeff Goldblum, Jamie Foxx, Cheech Marin, and Corbin Bernsen. Anyone who followed the sudden rise of Peter McNeeley prior to his bout with a post-prison Mike Tyson will notice a number of similarities.

Hancock

6. Hancock (2008) – If Superman were an alcoholic amnesiac, he’s be John Hancock (Will Smith), a superpowered grump who fights crime in Los Angeles and frequently causes more destruction than the bad guys. When he saves idealistic public relations whiz Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) from an oncoming train, the grateful citizen decides to give the hero an image makeover. This puts Hancock on the path to redemption, especially when a meeting with Ray’s wife (Charlize Theron) offers unexpected insight into his past. While it’s mostly played for laughs, director Berg still manages to offer up a number of spectacular scenes based around Hancock’s powers, something the makers of the Superman franchise should pay close attention to.

7. Fire in the Sky (1993) – Based on the book The Walton Experience, this sci-fi film details a supposed real-life alien abduction in 1975 Arizona. Peter Berg stars as David Whitlock, a logger who witnesses best friend Travis Walton (D.B. Sweeney) get taken by a bright light on a lonely country road. Walton shows up five days later, claiming to have been experiemented on by extraterrestrials. But the local authorities (Noble Willingham and James Garner) are suspicious, leading them to believe that the entire series of events may have been concocted to gain notoriety. Fact or fiction? Watch the film and judge for yourself. Also starring Robert Patrick and Craig Sheffer.

8. The Kingdom (2007) – Following a pair of terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia that leave scores of Americans dead, an FBI team (Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman) is allowed to travel to the Arab state to observe the investigation. But their intention is to do more than observe, a notion that pisses off people on almost every side. Some critics accused Berg’s film of unfair and simplistic stereotypes, but The Kingdom does present a positive figure in the form of Colonel Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom), a loving family man and member of the Saudi State Police. While it underwhelmed at the box office, it’s a decent rental thanks to several well-crafted action sequences and the likable nature of the cast. Be sure to check out the DVD extras, as well, since the climactic fight scene is provided from the perspective of each character.

Cop Land

9. Cop Land (1997) – The fictional town of Garrison, New Jersey is filled with members of the NYPD, and they know how to take care of each other. This is especially true when one of their own (Michael Rapaport) accidentally kills a couple of black kids. The ensuing investigation is headed up by Internal Affairs officer Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro), and he appeals to Garrison’s half-deaf sheriff, Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone), to assist him. Expect plenty of crooked cops and double-crosses, and the all-star cast includes Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Peter Berg, Robert Patrick, Annabella Sciorra, and Janeane Garofalo. Stallone gained 40 pounds for his role and plays against type as a low-key lawman, so don’t expect him to behave like Marion Cobretti.

10. Very Bad Things (1998) – While the cast members include Cameron Diaz, Jeremy Piven, Jon Favreau, Christian Slater, and Daniel Stern, this twisted directorial debut from Peter Berg isn’t for everyone. It all starts with a group of pals heading to Vegas for a bachelor party, but the accidental death of a hooker soon has them turning on one another in the most lethal ways possible. Slater channels a more deranged version of J.D. from Heathers, while Diaz plays a bitchy bride-to-be who ranks among the most obnoxious characters ever depicted on the big screen. Recommended only for fans of black comedies (and not the kind starring Tyler Perry).

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That wraps up our look at 10 good Peter Berg movies, but the fun doesn’t have to stop. By clicking any of the links below, you’ll be taken to even more articles from Only Good Movies:

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 15th, 2012 at 12:08 pm and is filed under Good Movies, Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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