Movie Review: Deepwater Horizon (2016)

“When faced with our darkest hour, hope is not a tactic”

2 Stars
Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Deepwater Horizon (2016)


Director: Peter Berg

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Douglas M. Griffin

Synopsis: A dramatic recreation of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

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Deepwater Horizon is one of those movies in which a bunch of guys stand around a screen full of coloured graphics and spout a load of technical stuff that you don’t understand, but which is kind of interesting anyway.   This particular bunch of guys are on the titular oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and count among their number the blue collar likes of Supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell – The Thing, Stargate) and Electrical Engineer Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg – Pain & Gain, 2 Guns).   They’re arguing that something is wrong with the rig, despite the insistence of an old school Southern gent by the name of Vidrine (John Malkovich – Warm Bodies, Zoolander 2) that all is well.   The boys know better, and so do we.   Vidrine is so deeply smothered in Southern Fried arrogance that he can be nothing but wrong.   In fact, he’s not just wrong, he’s WRONG.   He’s so WRONG that men are going to die because of it.   Deepwater Horizon couldn’t be clearer about this fact if it had Vidrine wearing a black cape and top hat and fingering his waxed moustache.

Pressure builds, both unseen in the pipes, and up on the rig, with Vidrine’s exaggerated politeness doing a poor job of disguising the disdain he feels for any colleague in a boiler suit.   Electronic dials swing into the red.   The explosions, when they come, are truly staggering, and only when they do arrive will many feel that the film has really started.   The stuff that comes before is necessary and watchable, but it’s awfully formulaic.   The impending disaster is crudely foreshadowed by a bird strike on the helicopter ferrying the crew to the platform, and mud starts spouting from pipes that were passed as safe half-an-hour earlier, just as Harrell is receiving a safety award for the sixth year in a row.   The irony is crushing – like a mallet to the head – and you kind of wonder why the writers didn’t feel that the very real prospect of being burned alive while surrounded by an ocean of water wasn’t irony enough for one movie.

For once, the use of CGI is justified in recreating the sheer hell of being trapped in a confined area which is engulfed in flames.   We can almost feel the heat, and taste the thick black smoke in the back of our throats.   And it’s not just fire.   A sea of mud erupts onto the engineering deck, and heavy-duty bolts become deadly missiles as they’re blasted from the flanges that connect the pipework.   All is confusion, but director Peter Berg does a good job of keeping track of who’s where.   The movie probably parts from reality as we see the usual acts of self-sacrificing heroism and frightened indecision, and some consider Deepwater Horizon to be disrespectful to the memory of the 11 men who lost their lives that day.   In all probability, it’s the commercial aspect to which they object, the making of money on the back of human tragedy, and they have a point.

Russell and Wahlberg, two reliable actors with overlapping screen images, both put in solid, workmanlike performances, and both are overshadowed by Malkovich, who effortlessly steals every scene in which he appears.   Back on dry land, Kate Hudson (Nine), who presumably agreed to play the thankless role of Williams’ everlovin’ wife in order to appear in a movie with her stepdad, exploits those smouldering eyes of hers for all she’s worth, but is given so little to work with that she must have wondered why she bothered.

You won’t be disappointed by Deepwater Horizon if you pay to see it.   The time passes quickly, and the movie is never boring.   But you might come away wondering why the screenplay didn’t dig a little deeper into the corporate mindset that permitted the accident to happen in the first place.

(Reviewed 8th October 2016)





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