Deepwater Horizon Review

Deepwater Horizon (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

Deepwater Horizon Review

Director: Peter Berg
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan (screenplay), Matthew Sand (screenplay)
Stars: Mark Wahlberg,  Kurt Russell,  Douglas M. Griffin

In another successful collaborative effort between Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, Deepwater Horizon, much like Patriot’s Day’s retelling of the Boston marathon bombing, is a dramatisation of a recent tragic real life event. This time focusing on the offshore drilling rig of the same name, the horrific explosion that occurred and the subsequent fiery oil spill which would go on to be the worst in U.S. history.

It all begins with the sound of the real Mike Williams being questioned about his role in the disaster and then Mark Wahlberg’s iteration takes to the screen along with Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) as Berg sets about quickly introducing two of the films primary protagonists. The former awakes in bed with his wife, before sharing time with his family on the eve of his departure to the rig for 21 day’s, the exploding can of his daughter during her description of his job for a school project providing an eerily prophetic glimpse at what’s in store, whilst the latter is seen trotting out of her house before struggling to fix the mechanical issues dogging her vintage muscle car and finally hitching a ride on her partners bike. “You really want to drive? Then sell that piece of shit and get a Ducati” we here him say, this early bit of humour, providing a good indication of the witty banter this film does so well.

We’re then introduced to Jimmy ‘Mr. Jimmy’ Harrell (Kurt Russell) at the airport prior to them heading out and the short scene between him and the two BP executives gives a pretty decent insight into the commanding persona of his character. He politely asks one of them to “lose” his tie for superstitious reasons as it’s magenta colour is shared with the most severe of warnings on oil rigs. The early stages of the film is littered with little prophetic nods of this ilk and whilst it’s not overly distracting, it is pretty obvious that they’re attempting build tension towards the main event. This is taken one stage further when a bird strike occurs on the helicopter ride out to the rig. Once again, there’s some good, witty exchanges between the characters during this short trip, especially between Andrea and Mike, with a nice little recurring conversation regarding her broken car between the pair first popping up here.

Upon arriving at the rig, the shit hits the metaphorical fan almost immediately, when a team who were supposed to be tasked with checking the integrity of the cement structure abruptly leave the rig just as Mike, Andrea, Jimmy and the others arrive. This of course causes the long serving and well respected Jimmy to go off on a tangent, naturally seeking assurances of safety, which inevitably leads him on a collision course with Vidrine (John Malkovich); an annoyingly arrogant BP executive/inspector. After much debating and surprisingly vitriolic bashing of BP, including lines like “you’re a 180 billion dollar company and you cheat”, all parties involved agree to run a negative pressure test. The first of these is less than successful, but an adamant Vidrine, in complete denial even in the face of huge pressure spikes won’t admit defeat, providing a plausible ‘bladder’ theory for the results and demanding a retest on the ‘kill line’ to prove his point.

It’s at this point really that things go downhill dramatically for all onboard the rig. The second negative pressure test comes back all clear and a smug Vidrine, throwing awfully polite insults like “you’re nervous as cats” and threats out, essentially forces the operation to be resumed. As history now shows, this proved to be a catastrophic decision. Shortly afterwards, a massive, irreversible, pressure buildup erupted up the main pipe on the rig causing widespread destruction on the rig, killing dozens and finally after a huge explosion, sent the entire structure up into a blazing inferno. Jimmy, who was in the shower at the time of the initial explosion, is partially blinded at one point and forced to remove a massive metal shard from his foot. Despite this, both him and Mike, the former ordering Vidrine to “get his ass on the lifeboat”, manage to keep calm in the chaos that surrounds them and courageously work together to try and cut the pipe and stop the oil from flowing out into the water.

Kurt Russell steals the show in this as the wily, old Jimmy, the veteran worker on the rigs, who despite having suffered terrible wounds, refuses to leave the burning structure until all avenues are exhausted. He brings plenty of charisma to the role and displays some good chemistry with the others. Mark Wahlberg is as reliable as ever putting in an excellent performance as the heroic Mike. These type of films are perfectly suited for him and you wouldn’t expect anything less than what he produced. Gina Rodriguez is something of a third sprung in the wheel and doesn’t really effect the overall story too much, but the scenes she had were well acted and she was decent enough. John Malkovich was fantastic as the incredibly annoying Vidrine. I doubt there’s been a more annoying character in a film I’ve watched all year. Everything about him was grating, including the accent, so I give kudos to Malkovich in his portrayal as the money obsessed man who would be later charged with manslaughter.

The film was a visual masterpiece and displayed some lovely cinematography work from Enrique Chediak. There was one particularly beautiful wide shot of the rig, standing alone in the water, prior to the disaster that caught my eye. It really helped highlight the precarious nature of these structures, whilst the internal shots of the piping and underwater rumblings added real tension to the film especially during the test scenes. But even the flames, explosions and fiery, oil slicked water were incredibly realistic and really captured what must have been an absolutely horrific experience for the poor workers trapped onboard.

Whilst I enjoyed their more recent collaboration on Patriot’s Day more, this was still a very good film. Peter Berg really has proven himself to be an excellent director. There was a neat little recurring conversation between Andrea and Mike that I touched upon earlier which did a good job of syncing the chaos at the end with the relative calmness at the beginning. I like when films do little things like this, the running joke about desert island artists from Green Room rings a bell, and it humanises the characters to an extent too. One criticism I have is that, having not been privy to the real life events of the characters, I’d be inclined to say this film more than likely spiced up some of the moments of tension for the Hollywood experience, but it certainly doesn’t detract any from what is an enjoyable watch.

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