Talk about your fifty shades of grey. Eight months await before novelist E.L. James’ steamy romance hits the big screen, but today our greys arrive courtesy of exceptional documentarian Rachel Boynton. And they’re the stuff of ethicists’ dreams… or nightmares.
"Big Men" brings us the account and aftermath of the 2007 discovery of the Jubilee field, a massive oil deposit off the coast of Ghana and the first such discovery in that country’s history. This thing could pump four billion dollars out of the sea and into the air of one of the poorest places on the planet.
And it was discovered essentially by three men, the principals of a small Dallas-based exploration concern by the name of Kosmos Energy. Three men who [used/retained the services of] a local liaison to gain audience with the Ghanaian monarch and government, who [struck a sweet deal/negotiated a mutually beneficial business arrangement] with said elements to develop the field, and who found themselves [under vicious unfounded attack by/receiving the righteous wrath of] a populace who [mistakenly/unreasonably] expected the discovery to pump the [lion’s share/proceeds] of its prosperity into the Ghanaian economy.
See, the Ghanaians don’t feel they fared so well when they were known as residents of the Gold Coast, and our Texan explorers seem to be looking a lot like the British Empire. Are the Ghanaians gun-shy, or are they wise?
I live on America’s “Third Coast” in Houston, Texas, having arrived here during the oil boom of the early 1980s; I was too young to grasp the fullness of what was going on, but the energy of the city was electric. Sitting on the beaches of Galveston, I would gaze in wonder at the oil rigs on the horizon and marvel at the story behind them, whatever that may be. How is it that such things even exist, and what goes on - in myriad literal detail - that they come to be there, in that spot, right now?
Well, "Big Men" shows us what goes on.
Director Rachel Boynton was granted early and striking access to the unfolding of events, bringing us into the Kosmos offices just after the discovery was made and it had secured the financial backing to proceed, but before development (i.e., drilling) had begun. Thus we get a rare and remarkable glimpse inside the arrangements, the planning, the wrangling, and the fallout of a multi-billion dollar deal.
Exploring heights and depths, sharks and Darwinism, social justice and just dealing, Boynton paints the picture of the Jubilee field in all its truth and consequence with a brush so dispassionate we cannot help but come away pulling for those we’re inclined to despise and questioning those we customarily support.
Does "Big Men" sound a clarion call for change, or does it more resemble an Animal Planet portrayal of survival in the wild? Is it a portrait of power stewarded, power abused, or power shaking out into a natural order?
Does it exhort us to grant the greys of the complexities involved, or does it exclaim, in the words of Jack Ryan to Robert Ritter, “Not black and white! Right. And. Wrong!” And if the latter, who’s which?
In following this raging and intriguing four-year battle, Rachel Boynton gives us what we need to answer that.
The Jubilee field is chugging, right now, as we speak. What say you?
Story: A glimpse inside the international dynamics and power plays surrounding a small Dallas-based company’s discovery of a massive oil field off the coast of Ghana in 2007, which could pump four billion dollars out of the sea and into the air of one of the poorest places on the planet.
Directed by: Rachel Boynton
Running time: 99 minutes
Now playing at the Sundance Cinemas in Houston TX. Check IMDb.com or the Sundance site for ticket information.