Known for her gritty, straightforward manner of documenting, Rachel Boynton returns to the big screen with Big Men, her second documentary feature. Produced by Brad Pitt and Steven Shainberg, this piece offers valuable insight into capitalism, corruption, and the blurred lines of ethics that are attached to the exploitation of oil throughout the world. The film holds extensive and highly valuable footage collected over the course of many years, which gives the spectator the opportunity to completely entrench themselves within the events portrayed.
Big Men chronicles the activity of Dallas based company Kosmos Energy after being handed the opportunity to develop the first commercial oil field in Ghana. The camera takes the spectator to Kosmos’s inner workings, as well as to various government agents in Ghana, and militant groups dealing with the discovery of the oil in their own way. There is also a comparison with Nigeria, which shows an alternate view on how the discovery of oil has been dealt with in different parts of Africa. The film documents everything from the happy discovery, to the tensions that arise, and the greed and corruption that inevitably follows such an endeavor.
Set to appropriate music and beautiful and crisp cinematography, the documentary makes use of interviews with the multiple organizations and individuals involved in the situation, and it does so over the course of years. There are multiple vantage points that collect information from various sources to provide the ample fountain of data. There is something very exciting about having the opportunity to witness the actual events that are being discussed in the feature. The camera takes the spectator to various countries and situations, and it almost seems unreal that one is able to relive the events in the way that they actually happened. It definitely adds a lot of weight to the credibility of the documentary, in the sense that it is easier to form one’s opinions on the individuals and their choices based on their own testimony rather than having everything recounted. The political nature of the documentary, however, makes it tricky to truly choose a side, and it leaves the audience with a sense of incredulity that pushes them to ponder the situation and analyze it from multiple angles.
In many senses, Big Men is a complex documentary. There is a lot of information to be digested and understood, and much of the responsibility of full comprehension is left in the hands of the spectator. While this fact may inhibit some – understandably so – it certainly allows room to formulate one’s own opinions, preventing the director from completely dictating how the information should be interpreted. The spectator must be careful not to take everything said at face value, despite all the first hand commentary that the film offers. The film is better enjoyed when a careful analytic eye is placed not only on the events documented, but also on the manner through which they are documented.