THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Deepwater Horizon is based on the true story of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, an electronics technician with Transocean, the company hired to dig a well in the Gulf of Mexico that will eventually be pumped for oil by BP. He and his fellow employees on the titular offshore drilling rig, including Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) and crew captain “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell), want to do the job right and with caution. BP executive Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich), meanwhile, is upset that the project is behind schedule and subsequently wants to cut corners. He refuses to listen to a piece of Jimmy's advice about the safety of conducting a particular test, leading to a catastrophe that causes the rig to explode, dumping an absurd amount of oil into the ocean in the process. Kate Hudson plays Felicia, Mike's wife, who learns of the disaster and tries to find out whether her husband is safe.
The movie's greatest strength is its authenticity. Much of the dialogue is indecipherable unless you're an expert on oil drilling, although that only adds to the realism. Instead of having characters stand around and explain what's happening in layman's terms, their technical talk is supplemented with shots of mud and oil clogging up the pipes, then succumbing to built-up pressure. The end result is that we understand the basics of what's happening, without needing to make sense of professional lingo. That quality makes it easier to get into the story.
Once tragedy strikes, Deepwater Horizon shifts into full-on action mode. Oil and mud blast from pipes. The pressure sends workers flying into walls and railings. There are explosions. Fire is everywhere. The structural integrity of the rig is compromised, causing large pieces to crumble. Director Peter Berg brings absolute realism to these moments. It never looks artificial or CGI; it looks like the movie was filmed on an honest-to-goodness oil rig that's coming apart at the seams. Deepwater Horizon is yet another example of the “Ordeal Movie,” a type of picture that brings a you-are-there feeling to the story of average people trying to stay alive in an unfathomable situation. To say it's exciting would be an understatement. The film really conveys how scary it must have been for those people to be floating miles away from shore on a deathtrap.
Most of the running time is devoted to the incident. It doesn't take long for Williams to get out to the rig, and once the survivors have been rescued, the movie is almost over. Nonetheless, there's a real human quality to Deepwater Horizon that makes its technical proficiency even more effective. Without ever pounding a message into the audience's head, the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand gets across the idea that the disaster could have been avoided. Mike and Jimmy see – and try to survive – the destruction around them, knowing that a flagrant disregard for safety measures is the culprit. Mike, in particular, attempts to save lives, fully aware that he shouldn't have to be in such a predicament. In watching him, the audience is left to ponder the utter senselessness of what happened on that April day in 2010.
This is the second film actor/producer Wahlberg and director Berg have made together, following 2013's Lone Survivor. (They have a third, the Boston marathon bombing drama Patriot's Day, scheduled for later this year.) The men's sensibilities seem very compatible. Their movies celebrate heroism under extraordinary duress, as well as camaraderie among team members. Other filmmakers might have felt compelled to over-explain the most important plot points or play up the infuriating nature of BP's negligence. In this case, it was smart not to do those things, because it allows Deepwater Horizon to focus on the themes that mean the most to its makers.
All the performances are strong. It is, however, a shame that Kate Hudson is saddled with the stereotypical Worried Wife Back Home role. She's really good here, so more of her would have added even more emotionality to the film. Despite that reservation, Deepwater Horizon works extremely well as both a nail-biting recreation of a horrific accident and as a celebration of the American worker, who would put the safety of his colleagues over profits any day of the week.
( 1/2 out of four)
Deepwater Horizon is rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.
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