Film review: DEEPWATER HORIZON, from ‘Built For Speed’

Deepwater Horizon is an old fashioned disaster movie and while occasionally cornball, it’s a pretty effective one. The film dramatises actual events that occurred in 2010 when an oil exploration rig named Deepwater Horizon experienced a massive explosion and fire that resulted in the deaths of 11 men.

At the centre of the drama are chief electronics officer Mike Williams (Mark Wahlburg) who, according to the film, selflessly risked his life to rescue rig workers from the inferno, the rig crew’s much respected leader Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and well site leader Don Vidrine (John Malcovich) who allegedly pushed the rig to breaking point triggering the disaster.

Initially, the film adopts the matter-of-fact, yet tense style of Paul Greengrass in films like United 93 and Captain Phillips as it introduces us to the main players and acquaints us with the massive beast that is the Deepwater Horizon rig. All the while the film builds antipathy between workers and management and through its use of uneasy hand held camera-work, creates an ominous sense that something is about to go horribly wrong. Once the disaster takes hold and the rig transforms into a massive fireball, the film turns into a gruelling, very noisy but convincing ordeal. While some of the cgi looks fake, the film, for the most part, provides a punishingly realistic view of the hellish situation in which the rig workers found themselves. Admittedly, the film begins to mimic Titanic with frantic evacuation scenes as the rig begins to collapse. Viewers should also be warned that, at times director Peter berg gratuitously and gleefully exaggerates the gore factor with visceral delights such as bones protruding from limbs.

A cast full of big names and familiar faces does a reasonable job. Wahlberg makes a physically dynamic but not particularly rousing or charismatic hero. Also, some of his dialogue is unintelligible. The film is a little too obvious in its attempt to fashion a working class family man narrative around him and some of the early domestic scenes where he banters with wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) are very clunky. Similarly, the film’s early attempt to establish the blokey camaraderie between the rig workers is at times contrived and a little irritating.

Kurt Russell is well cast as the gruff but very likeable father figure Jimmy while Malcovich is a little too oily and arrogant as the Management mouthpiece who refuses to listen to the experienced rig workers.

Given the dubious quality of many recent big budget disaster films such as San Andreas and Independence Day 2, viewers would be forgiven for going into Deepwater Horizon with low expectations. Refreshingly, though, this tightly-wound, exciting if flawed film will exceed most expectations.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Biopic/ drama/ disaster.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Peter Berg.

Release date: 6th Oct 2016.

Running time: 107 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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