Berg's exciting 'Deepwater Horizon' explores dramatic BP oil spill disaster
Posted October 2, 2016
“DEEPWATER HORIZON” — 3 stars — Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, Dylan O'Brien, Douglas M. Griffin; PG-13 (prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images and brief strong language); in general release
Director Peter Berg's "Deepwater Horizon" manages to be painfully simple and studiously complex at the same time. In essence, it's about an oil rig that blows up. Once it blows, everyone has to get off, real fast. That's pretty much it.
But Berg's film is based on a real-life event: the Deepwater Horizon disaster of April 2010. So the director gives us a step-by-step narrative of what led to one of the biggest oil disasters in history.
Given that most people aren't familiar with the process of oil drilling, that becomes a complicated task. Focus too much on the minutiae, and the audience falls asleep. Over simplify things, and you get accused of distorting the truth.
Berg's solution is a 107-minute film that builds suspense for its first hour before turning into an exciting all-out action disaster for its final act.
His protagonist is Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), an electrician on a massive, floating oil platform parked 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana called the Deepwater Horizon. He and his supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) arrive for their three-week shift just in time to find a couple of British Petroleum reps skipping over some safety procedures. Vidrine and Kaluza (John Malkovich and Brad Leland) are already weeks behind schedule and fed up with dealing with what has become known as "the well from hell."
Harrell immediately intervenes, insisting on a number of time-consuming safety tests, and "Deepwater Horizon" becomes a technical suspense thriller as cutaway shots to the gurgling well thousands of feet below them foreshadow the disaster to come.
Eventually, the whole thing blows, leaving Williams and company trying to escape a fiery inferno. The actual blowout lasted nearly three months, but Berg focuses on the dramatic climax that left a dozen deaths in its wake.
The shift in tone is dramatic but appropriately powerful, and Berg once again demonstrates the skillful style he's employed in similar blue-collar tales such as "Lone Survivor" (which also starred Wahlberg) and "Friday Night Lights." If you enjoyed those efforts, "Deepwater Horizon" should definitely be on your "must-see" list.
Wahlberg and Russell are solid in their roles, well complemented by the versatile Malkovich, and fans will enjoy seeing Leland in action after his previous work in Berg films. Gina Rodriguez gives us another view from the platform as female crewmember Andrea Fleytas, and back on shore, Kate Hudson anchors the audience’s human perspective as Mike's wife Felicia.
Though there is ample opportunity for political commentary, Berg chooses to focus his story on the people in the middle of the catastrophe rather than its environmental impact. Though that may be disappointing to some (images of oil-soaked sea birds in the immediate aftermath of the blast foreshadow the vast damage to come), a subtle but firm finger is pointed in the direction of the BP reps who pushed the project forward. The result is a film that respects the sacrifices of the people who depend on the industry, while criticizing the motives and behaviors that led to the disaster.
“Deepwater Horizon” is rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images and brief strong language; running time: 107 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.