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2. The Rundown

The Rundown is an exceptional popcorn movie, featuring a hugely charismatic from Dwayne Johnson, a variety of practical action, a good sense of humor, beautiful locations, and a worthy adversary for Johnson’s Mr. Beck. Christopher Walken is pure fun as Cornelius Bernard Hatcher. In his introduction, Berg giddily ramps up to Walken’s momentous performance, mostly showing the actor in quick, funny little cuts, before completely unveiling him in a scene in which he threatens Beck and waxes poetic about keeping his eye on the ball. Walken strikes a delicate balance, providing a sense of menace and humor at the same time.

The Rundown is a movie filled with strong character introductions, but Walken has the juiciest one, partially because nobody says “refrigerator” and “arouses the curiosity” like he does. And, as entertaining as that scene is, it’s no match for the Tooth Fairy speech. Walken doesn’t waste a line talking about the Tooth Fairy, reveling in the oddity of his villain’s speech. Once you hear that speech, you don’t forget it. The Rundown is also the movie that showed Dwayne Johnson is the real deal as an actor. As the gun-hating, restaurant-dreaming Beck, Johnson is wildly charismatic, even when he’s getting his faced humped by a monkey. Johnson brings a humility and relaxed charm to Beck, and he also looks pretty cool walking away from an explosion, too.

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1. Friday Night Lights

Based on Buzz Bissinger‘s book of the same name, this film is Berg’s most emotionally compelling work. Sometimes the drama in Berg’s movies is calculated — you know who’s going to die in The Kingdom based on a conversation between two people connecting — but that’s not the case with Friday Night Lights, his most real and thrilling film. The high school football drama embodies most of Berg’s greatest strengths, like establishing a sense of place. Very quickly Berg makes you feel like you know Odessa, Texas, and what Permian football means to this small town — which, though sometimes oppressive and somewhat troubled town, isn’t without beauty.

Friday Night Lights concludes with so many grand, touching, and earned moments. When Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) cracks a rare smile and throws that ball at the end, played to the sincere and soaring sound of Explosions in the Sky’s “Your Hand in Mine,” it’s a beautiful scene. It’s one of the few times the character experiences happiness about the game he’s been playing his whole life, and it comes after a loss. But if you listen closely to Coach Gary Gaines’ (Billy Bob Thornton) final half-time speech, then you know Mitchell and his team don’t really lose the state championship, as cheesy as that sounds. As far as half-time speeches go, Billy Bob Thornton’s is grade A. Gaines isn’t talking about two quarters, he’s talking about 24 more minutes of gameplay that’ll inform some of his players’ lives. The speech is one of the many inspiring, heartfelt scenes from Berg’s powerful film.

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