Review: Deepwater Horizon
PLOT: The true story of the Deepwater Horizon, the mobile drilling unit that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing the BP Oil Spill.
REVIEW: While the BP Oil Spill may not seem a natural topic for a $100 million plus disaster movie designed to play to a broad audience, Peter Berg’s DEEPWATER HORIZON is certainly among the most exciting, visually arresting and high tension action-thrillers in recent memory. Well-scripted, dynamically shot and brilliantly acted, it’s exactly the kind of thought-provoking, yet commercial and crowd-pleasing fare Hollywood studios should make but rarely do.
Startlingly free of melodrama and tightly focused, in just over 100 minutes, DEEPWATER HORIZON manages to be both a profoundly moving survival tale but also a notably smart insight into how exactly the BP Oil Spill happened and the role corporate greed played in what’s been called the worst environmental disaster in U.S history.
Berg takes his time getting to the carnage of the Deepwater explosion. During a prelude introducing us to our every-man hero, Mark Wahlberg’s Mike Williams and his family (with Kate Hudson as his adoring wife), a clever scene where Williams helps his daughter with her science project explaining the principal behind the drilling is included - a smart easy way to bring us into this world. Once aboard the ship, we meet all the principal players, but rather than dive too much into back-stories and drama, Berg and screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand launch us right into the conflict between BP and the drillers. John Malkovich’s Cajun oil boss is pitted against Kurt Russell’s blue-collar captain, with the two butting heads over safety shortcuts, with the company man willing to risk disaster in order to preserve company profits.
While certainly playing a venomous snake, Malkovich, despite the somewhat sinister faux accent, never goes overboard as the BP rep, while Russell also doesn’t go too far as the noble captain, avoiding making him too much of a martyr or the David to BP’s Goliath. In the second hour the carnage kicks into high gear, with every penny of the considerable budget going-in to conveying the absolute white-knuckle horror of the disaster. Especially as seen on a big IMAX screen, you really feel propelled into the middle of the madness, with mud and geysers of fire galore and a real sense of mortal danger that makes you question whether anyone’s going to get off the rig alive, even if you already know the story.
Playing the lead, Wahlberg once again does fine work for Berg. Wearing an easygoing smile and showing a sense of humor, his Williams is an intensely likable guy free from alpha-male displays of heroics. Rather, he’s just a guy who wants to get off the rig and go back to his family. Sending much of the second half covered in blood with his eyes swollen shut, Russell also has a part that ranks with his best leading roles of the eighties and nineties, continuing the great comeback with began with last year’s back-to-back BONE TOMAHAWK and THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Two of the younger cast members, ‘Jane the Virgin’’s Gina Rodriguez and THE MAZE RUNNER’s Dylan O’Brien also impress in their gritty parts, with O’Brien cutting an especially heroic figure, which bodes well for his upcoming AMERICAN ASSASSIN.
As far as true-life thrillers go, Peter Berg is rapidly proving himself to be a master of the genre. This makes for a strong companion piece with his earlier LONE SURVIVOR, and should itself be complimented nicely by his upcoming Boston Marathon drama, PATRIOTS DAY. Compelling and educational without being melodramatic or didactic, DEEPWATER HORIZON is rousing entertainment that needs to be seen and appreciated on the biggest screen you can find. It’s one of the fall season’s must-see films.
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