Deepwater Horizon (2016)
Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: September 30th, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Peter Berg Actors: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich, Ethan Suplee, Kate Hudson

 


 

M

ike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), Chief Electrical Technician for the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling unit, says his goodbyes to his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter before embarking on a three-week shift aboard the semi-submersible platform. Once there, he discovers that a crucial cement test was ignored, provoking manager James “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell) to berate the unscrupulous company administrators responsible for the oversight. But being badly over-budget and more than six weeks behind schedule leads corporate representative Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) to push Harrell into activating the drill, despite inconclusive tests of the well’s integrity. When extreme pressure leads to a blowout and subsequent fire aboard the rig, Williams risks his life to aid in the evacuation of the facility.

“Deepwater Horizon” isn’t really interested in telling a comprehensive story about the enormous catastrophe of the now infamous oil rig. Instead, it just wants to be a nerve-wracking disaster picture, complete with sympathetic victims and survivors, numerous explosions, a tense escape sequence, and evil corporate guys (more than willing to pretermit a few safety precautions for the sake of expedited income). This is largely evident in the failure to specify exactly what went wrong, who is to blame or who took the blame, and concluding without any mention of the environmental damages and costs incurred as part of the aftermath.

It’s also present in the character development, which is so impossibly generic that it never once appears as if designed for authenticity. A perfectly loving wife, a precocious kid prepping to talk about her father’s job to her elementary school class, and an understanding boss overly concerned with protocol (but not too distant to shoot the breeze over extracurricular activities) are just a few of the hopelessly trite embellishments for the primary protagonist. The camaraderie aboard the free-floating vessel is just as overbearing, particularly when the small-talk dialogue is so fast and sarcastic and full of colloquialisms that it sounds as if writers Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan were penning a screwball comedy. It hardly matters whether or not oil miners actually converse like this; the banter comes across as something carefully constructed to satisfy audiences’ notions about how the intermixing hierarchy of laborers and executives might bicker – not far removed from the construction of military lingo or scientist speeches.

And then there’s a multiplicity of jargon, hoping to shroud the complexities of the machinery and drilling operations, which might be untranslatable to average moviegoers. Much of the terminology ends up being inconsequential, as the explanations behind a kill line test and negative pressure test, the bladder effect, and the annular devices are never elaborated upon to any useful degree. These exchanges, paired with insert shots of grinding gears and computer readouts and colorful gauges, do little to advance the plot or build worthwhile characters; instead, it all just stalls the looming blowout, which occurs nearly an hour into the film. For a simple disaster movie, “Deepwater Horizon” certainly takes its sweet time getting to the action.

Fortunately, when the long-awaited excitement finally commences, it’s undoubtedly electrifying. Panic, casualties, bloody injuries (including a stolen injury idea from “Die Hard”), and old-fashioned heroism turn the escape from the fiery, crumbling structure into quite the pulse-pounding ordeal. Though it can’t transcend an ordinary disaster film classification, the destruction and the rescues are handled admirably. Curiously, with the budget, sets, and cinematography, it could have made for a riveting horror epic, if only the offshore platform had been attacked by deep-sea monsters instead of money-grubbing bigwigs’ corner-cutting impatience.

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10