With his intriguing visual style and original take on the action genre, director Peter Berg has become one of the most interesting voices in mainstream cinema. From his origins as a television actor to a creator of big-budget action flicks, Berg sports a style that is partly mired in the mainstream appeal of Michael Bay with some of the cinematography work of Michael Mann. His films have received critical praise and some box-office success, with one of his works, “Friday Night Lights” producing a highly acclaimed television spin-off. While not quite a household name yet, Berg’s impressive filmography has made him a director to watch.
Berg began his career as an actor, taking bit parts in film and television before seizing a recurring role as Dr. Billy Kronk on “Chicago Hope” from 1995 until 1999. From there, he made his directorial debut with the 1998 dark comedy “Very Bad Things.” Featuring Jon Favreau and Cameron Diaz, the film fizzled at the box office but has since gained a cult audience. While Berg wrote the screenplay, his visual style was hardly evident in his first film.
In 2003, Berg returned with the “The Rundown,” an action film partially based on “El Dorado.” The film had a star-studded cast with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Sean William Scott, Rosario Dawson and Christopher Walken. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger made a cameo appearance in a scene that felt like a passing of the action hero torch to Johnson.
This film saw Berg’s visual style and editing techniques on full display. The kinetic energy took viewers on an exciting ride through the jungles of South America. With a bit of humor and a lot of action, “The Rundown” was a hit with critics but did not quite earn back its budget at the box office. However, it was a clear sign that Berg was coming into his own as a director, putting a unique stamp on what could have been a standard action thriller.
Not content with doing another action film, Berg took on Buzz Bissinger’s classic sport book, “Friday Night Lights.” The story of the town of Odessa and the Permian High School football team, the film was a huge hit with critics and audiences. Its intriguing camera setup gave it a documentary-like feel, while the score by post-rock band Explosions in the Sky added a haunting complexity to each scene. “Friday Night Lights” also saw Berg working with Brad Leland and Connie Briton for the first time. Both actors would later appear on the “Friday Night Lights” television series, which Berg produced and occasionally directed. The movie and series proved to be critically successful, leading to Berg working with actors such as Kyle Chandler, Minka Kelly, Taylor Kitsch and Jesse Plemons in films outside of the “Friday Night Lights” canon.
“The Kingdom” saw Berg returning to the action genre he had previously touched on with “The Rundown.” Taking a deadly serious look at the war in Iraq, Berg’s 2007 film followed a group of FBI agents investigating a bombing. The action and wartime scenery allowed Berg to continue refining his visual style, putting audiences directly in the middle of the battle.
After “The Kingdom,” Berg caught the attention of Will Smith, who was looking to put the long-gestating superhero film “Hancock” into production. One of Berg’s inspirations, Michael Mann, was originally supposed to direct the film but opted for a producer’s credit instead. Mann’s style of filmmaking is all over the film, especially in its third act. “Hancock” was a unique take on the superhero genre, offering viewers a direct contrast to other comic-book films released in 2008, such as “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight.” With the help of a smart script and Smith’s star power, “Hancock” became Berg’s highest grossing film.
Berg’s follow-up to “Hancock” was a military drama and action film based on a famous board game. “Battleship” may seem like an odd choice for a blockbuster, but Berg’s direction brought an intriguing take on a film that could have been just another alien invasion flick. With “Friday Night Lights” alums Kitsch and Plemons, the movie saw the director at his most bombastic. The large budget, coupled with the state-of-the-art special effects brought an entertaining and energetic life to the action genre. However, it received a lukewarm reception from audiences and critics, putting in question any plans for a sequel.
Since 2008, there have been rumors of a sequel to “Hancock” with Berg returning to the director’s chair. While the sequel has yet to be officially refuted, there has been little movement by the studio to put it into production. Currently, Berg is working on the film “Lone Survivor.” Based on a failed SEAL mission, the film has Taylor Kitsch, Marc Wahlberg and Ben Foster attached to it. Filming began in January 2012, with a release date set for 2013.