“Deepwater Horizon” Movie Review


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     Director Peter Berg has already demonstrated the ability to deliver gritty, realistic depictions of real life events, particularly with his well received 2013 war film “Lone Survivor”.  Returning to the same style of filmmaking, Berg’s latest film, “Deepwater Horizon”, has him again teaming up with Mark Wahlberg, who himself is also on a roll with this sort of story.  And what is that story?  Berg and Wahlberg tackle the harrowing events aboard the Deepwater Horizon, an oil drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana that exploded in April, 2010 and is considered to be the worst oil drilling accident in U.S. history.  To say the least, this was a terrible incident that should have and could have been prevented and Berg puts the audience directly into harms way in one of the most horrific and chilling theatrical experiences I’ve had in quite some time.

     Berg and his screenwriters, Matthew Michael Carnahan (“World War Z”), Michael Sand (“Ninja Assassin”) take about the first half hour or so to introduce us to the main players who later would play an important part in the disaster.  Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) is a crew supervisor aboard the rig and we first meet him and his family (played by Kate Hudson & Stella Allen) as they say their goodbyes before he leaves for a three week stint.  Arriving with him is the rig’s lead supervisor, Jimmy Harrell (played by Kurt Russell who is no stranger to these types of disaster story roles), a gruff no nonsense kind of man whose weathered looks and hardened attitude tell us he’s been here many times before.  We know this because he goes head to head with Vidrine (John Malkovich), an oil company representative who presses the need for the rig to go operational even though current testing tells them they should not.

     The early scenes dramatize the dialogue between Harrell, Vidrine, and the various crew members as they perform a series of tests and safety checks in order to determine if the rig will begin pumping oil on schedule.  And even when some of those tests prove the structure, specifically the concrete below, may not hold to the pressure of the drilling, the greedy oil company representatives, who have financed the entire operation, order Harrell, Williams, and their crew to proceed anyway.  Like Clint Eastwood’s “Sully”, you likely were watching news reports on this incident in real time as it unfolded.  What begins as something those in control thought was minor and easily explained, turns into “Backdraft” on steroids in the blink of an eye.

     Berg’s direction of the massive sequence in which the rig explodes and puts everyone on board in instant peril is a master’s work in haunting fiery realism.  While some filmmakers would choose to go the more cinematic route, using slow motion shots to create a false sense of heroism, Berg puts you right in the middle of the blaze as projectiles explode and rush past the characters like bullets and the circumstances leave no time for even the slightest reaction.  The sets are not lit in the familiar greens and yellows of a Michael Bay film, instead Berg allows fire, oily mud, and multiple explosions to put light on his actors as the events unfold around them at a blistering pace.  I bring up Michael Bay here because he is one who chose to go the cinematic route I was speaking of with his Benghazi film “13 Hours” earlier this year.  I thought then that those guys caught in that attack deserved to be honored with a better film made with a more appropriate filmmaker.  I think Berg would’ve been the better choice looking back now.

     Wahlberg deserves a ton of credit here as well, as he delivers yet another fine performance in a very meaningful role.  Russell is also outstanding, as is Gina Rodriguez, who plays bridge navigator Andrea Fleytas and really gives some emotional weight to the circumstances she faced along with Williams as the rig became uninhabitable due to the fire.  And Berg’s decision to abandon needless dialogue in the aftermath and instead let us see all we need to know on the character’s faces, creates an eye watering moment where you realize how important everyone’s life really is.  You also begin to understand how corporate greed and the all mighty dollar can truly steer a company’s decision making in the wrong direction, even when they know people’s lives could be at stake.  Many people lost their lives that night, and a film like “Deepwater Horizon” doesn't ease the pain of the loss, but at least it tells their story in the right way.  GRADE: A