One of the best
Big Men (2013): 9 out of 10: A documentary focused on the acquisition and exploration of Ghanaian oil fields by Dallas based company Kosmos Energy. Big Men also follows the activities of a rebel group in nearby Nigeria that destroys pipelines to force the government to bring more funds to their region.
There are a lot of moving parts that can make a documentary great. On paper, this should not be that good a documentary. The subject matter of an American oil exploration company negotiating with a government for oil leasing and exploration rights is not exactly sexy. The film also splits its story with trips to Nigeria for a somewhat unrelated narrative about poverty and rebel activity in the oil fields. The filming is decent with off-camera questions being shouted by the filmmaker but this is just a step above Dateline most of the time.
Two things not just save this movie but lift it to one of the best documentaries I have seen this year. The first thing is access. Rachel Boynton has complete access to everyone. The oil guys invite her into their offices and homes, The Ghanian government is very open (At least for a while), and the rebels basically take her along while they do everything. It really is amazing.
The second thing is this becomes a much more interesting story than either Rachel or the various participants could ever know. May you live in interesting times may be a Chinese curse but it is a documentary filmmakers blessing.
Two quibbles and or questions though. I wish the film was a bit more upfront about the stock ownership of certain participants before it is revealed later in the film. Would have put some of the “crisis” in better perspective. Second is where the hell did all those rebels get all those ski masks in the middle of the Nigerian Jungle?
This film has made me a Rachel Boynton fan for life. She may not be the most polished documentary maker but she is one of the best and one of the luckiest.