The worst oil disaster in U.S. history receives the big-screen treatment in "Deepwater Horizon," a fearsome, foreboding docudrama that involves the viewer while it is playing out but doesn't dramatically stick after the fact. Muscular in its technical stature but comparatively slight from a screenwriting perspective, director Peter Berg's (2013's "Lone Survivor") $156-million telling gives its actors thinly developed, matter-of-fact roles and observes as they deal with an imminent, life-or-death catastrophe they soon realize they have no way of stopping. The film works best as an observation of the events as they unfolded, even as one wishes the eleven human casualties onboard were treated in Matthew Michael Carnahan (2013's "World War Z") and Matthew Sand's script as more than virtual extras.
On April 20, 2010, 41 miles northeast of the Louisiana coast, semi-submersible offshore oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon was involved in a calamitous blowout resulting in an explosion onboard. As a firestorm was unleashed and the crew struggled without avail to contain it, the accident quickly became a fight for survival. Based on the 2010 New York Times article "Deepwater Horizon's Final Hours" by David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul, "Deepwater Horizon" sticks close to the subject at hand with little in the way of extraneous subplots or deep-diving character portraits. Electrician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) is a devoted family man with a wife, Felicia (Kate Hudson), and daughter, Sydney (Stella Allen), waiting at home. Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) is the rig's installation manager who has just received a BP Safety Award as everything unsuspectingly falls apart. Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) is the sole female crew member aboard, torn between following protocol and doing what she believes to be right. And Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich, sporting a curious Cajun accent) is positioned as a negligent and self-serving BP supervisor who botches the pressure test that causes the explosion.
"Deepwater Horizon" remains focused on the here and now, not quite recognizing the full gravity and outcome of its mortally treacherous, environmentally perilous situation (a scene involving an oil-covered seagull in distress is as grim as things get). Nevertheless, director Peter Berg has crafted a stirring action-thriller. The exceptional special effects are scarily awesome to behold and nothing less than entirely believable, full of all the fiery heat and hellish grandeur one would imagine from such a tragedy. None of the actors have the most showy of roles—most are just asked to struggle to stay alive or, in the case of Kate Hudson (2016's "Mother's Day"), look worried at home—but Mark Wahlberg (2015's "Ted 2"), Kurt Russell (2015's "Furious 7"), and Gina Rodriguez (TV's "Jane the Virgin") are quite good at filling these parts. With such a tight but extended buildup, the 107-minute picture flies by, seemingly seguing from its first act to its propulsive finale without much in between. "Deepwater Horizon" is a commercial-minded disaster movie more so than a hard-hitting dive into the politics and repercussions of its centerpiece ordeal, but on those terms it certainly grabs and holds one's attention for the slick duration.
Directed by Peter Berg.
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O'Brien, Stella Allen, Ethan Suplee, Joe Chrest, Robert Walker Branchaud, J.D. Evermore, Brad Leland, Henry Frost, James DuMont, David Maldonado, Garrett Hines, Jeremy Sande.
2016 – 107 minutes
Rated: (for prolonged intense disaster sequences and disturbing images).
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