A fitting tribute to those who suffered because of the disaster
Mark Wahlberg stars in this fittingly explosive thriller based on a real-life catastrophe.The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the worst ecological disaster in US history, claiming the lives of 11 people, devastating countless others and inflicting severe damage on countless natural habitats and acres of land. It was a terrible tragedy and so, naturally, Hollywood has brought it to the big screen. Deepwater Horizon stars Mark Wahlberg as Mike Williams, an engineer on the titular doomed oil rig. The film eases us into the action, as Williams heads off to what at first seems like another day at the office, and soon turns into hellish, unmitigated disaster.Williams’s boss Jimmy (Kurt Russell) is butting heads with the villainous BP executives, who push him into going ahead with a drilling operation despite serious worries about safety. Soon the rig is engulfed in flames and a huge explosion sees the entire crew fighting to survive. Director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Lone Survivor, Battleship) infuses the film with the best of his more recent films, and Deepwater Horizon looks and feels very much like a war movie. The disaster aesthetic is incredibly well-realised, with shots of huge explosions and burning debris.
The vast majority of the audience for this film will most likely be all too aware of the horrendous real-life story, without necessarily understanding any of the science behind oil rigs or ecological disasters. Luckily for us, writers Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan have included a clever scene with Williams’s daughter (Stella Allen), who explains oil rigs in third-grade language. The film doesn’t assume too much prior audience knowledge of the events it’s based on, and even without fully understanding the technicalities of the Deepwater Horizon, the audience is fully gripped by the intense on-screen drama and the rich and effective special effects.
The film rightly places the blame for the disaster squarely on the heads of the executives of BP, and honours the brave men and women on the rig’s crew. Wahlberg is his usual action-hero-gruff-everyman-fighter and embodies the role of real-life hero Williams perfectly, and he’s totally believable and empathetic as all hell breaks loose around him. Russell is excellent as the steely and gruff boss on the rig, Gina Rodriguez shines in a small role as a worker on the rig who tries to raise the alarm, and John Malkovich is perfectly slimy and foreboding as the BP executive who pushes the ill-fated mission ahead.
Complementing the great performances by the ensemble cast, Berg manages to not go too overboard with CGI and reigns in some of the heavy-handed effects from his previous films (Battleship in particular). The action is well-marshalled while still being spectacular, and even though there are some gruesome and horrifying moments, the film never strays too far from feeling like a tribute to the victims of the disaster. While there will probably be some who find the choke-slam editing style – smash cuts and whirling, documentary-style handheld shots – a bit too confusing and disorientating, the deliberate aesthetic choices work in perfect tandem with the chaos of the storyline.
The disaster is incredibly well-realised with shots of huge explosions and burning debris
While there are some parts that aren’t incredibly clear – I still don’t fully understand how on earth this disaster was allowed to happen, nor why – the film manages to carry the audience along, and push the plight of the crew to the forefront. Deepwater Horizon is an effective disaster-action movie, and makes good use of massive CGI and effects, without feeling too gratuitous. It’s been marketed as exactly what it is: an explosive, sad and thrilling action flick that’s based on recent history but is still entertaining enough to be produced by a Hollywood studio.
The film ultimately pays fitting tribute to those who suffered unimaginably because of the oil spill, and succeeds in bringing an event back into the public eye. Really, it’s shocking that it’s been allowed to fade from the public consciousness, and it’s pretty great that a Hollywood blockbuster, of all things, has played a serious and responsible role here.
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