Movie Review: Deepwater Horizon

The true story of a disaster on an oil rig is turned into an old-school disaster film

Deepwater Horizon
Directed by Peter Berg
With Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O'Brien, Kate Hudson

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in 2010 was the world's largest accidental marine oil spill and the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. The film Deepwater Horizon chronicles the hours leading up to the explosion of the rig and subsequent fire.

The film itself is a thrilling account of the events that will have audiences on the edge of the seat, despite the outcome being very well-known. Director Peter Berg, along with writers Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan, approach the story as an old-school disaster film, filled with malfunctioning equipment, escalating mishaps and massive fires and explosions.

The film shows how everything went wrong on the fateful day of the fire, but leaves out the months of shortcuts and bad decisions leading up to the situation, and the numerous congressional hearings and court cases afterward. The oil spill, which raged for almost three months before it was capped, is also given very little mention.

The lead actors quickly fall into typical action film and disaster film roles. Kurt Russell and John Malkovich are particularly good as “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell and Donald Vidrine, who lock horns over safety versus deadlines right before the disaster. Mr. Jimmy, working for rig owner Transocean, is concerned that important tests weren't done. Vidrine, who works for oil company BP, keeps pointing out the well is 43 days behind schedule, and time is money.

Representing the average man is Mark Wahlberg in another working-class hero role. He has played this part before, and is quite convincing in it but does not really push the envelope. Kate Hudson has the somewhat stereotypical role of the concerned wife back on shore, making phone calls and trying to find out what happened when nobody has any information yet. Wahlberg was also one of the producers of the film and no doubt saw the story as a good showcase for his talents.

A welcome change to the somewhat stock cast of characters is Gina Rodriguez as one of the crew on the rig. She holds her own for the most part, and doesn't turn into a damsel in distress. She does need a little help, but not more than several of the male characters.

The film works as a panorama of events that explain from a technical point of view what went wrong. Characters from the top to the bottom of the rig are seen giving their individual points of view on things being not quite right with the well. The ominous sea floor is seen burping and trembling while the crew of the rig tries to convince themselves that things aren't really that bad.

The dialogue for the most part is convincing. People remain surprisingly calm, with very few moments of over-the-top histrionics. Even the arguments over the need for more testing remain for the most part civil.

There is a lot of talk about the cement on the well, and concern over the lack of final test. The film doesn't go into detail about why this was important. The main point the film makes is that the people who should have done the test were allowed to leave the rig without doing it.

There are actually employees from several companies on the rig, though it is not always clear who works for whom.

The blame for the disaster seems to be pointed at BP executives for penny pinching on safety and basically bullying everyone else to get in line, as it was BP's well. John Malkovich gives us a villain who is scary for his complete ordinariness. He is not evil. He is just carrying company policy and goals in a world where the bottom line is everything.

As an action film, Deepwater Horizon is first-rate, with a perfect cast and a taught, credible script. It is even good as a true story, making some concessions for dramatic purposes but keeping true to the key events.

But it is frustrating that it focuses so narrowly on the initial explosion, and doesn't go near the treatment of employees after the disaster, the subsequent oil spill or the hearings and trials.

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