Director Peter Berg teams up again with Mark Wahlberg after their 2103 success Lone Survivor for Deepwater Horizon, a well-made, well-acted and arguably tense and exciting real-life disaster movie that takes a scary look at the catastrophe in April of 2010 on an offshore oil rig.
Those time-honoured, er clichéd, disaster movie characters are all aboard: the action-man tough guy hero (Wahlberg), the grizzled old-timer (Kurt Russell) whose warnings on safety are tragically ignored and the contemptible corporate man (John Malkovich) who is ignoring safety to save money.
The first half is a long, slow, fairly dull and mundane build-up with too much technical detail to be interesting or involving, but more detail than we actually need. Then there follows quite suddenly the exciting, CGI-led all-action finale when the disaster starts and Wahlberg leads the heroics.
This is the Hollywood version of the story of how the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on 20 April 2010, killing 11 people and leaking millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The film is like a modern-day version of one of those old Irwin Allen Seventies disaster movies, but they were fun because the stories were all made up and no real people were involved.
This is much less fun, because it is a true story, a recent one, and real people died, so it is not really a subject for entertainment. The exciting second half is also depressing when you are invited to consider what has happened and how people died. It has a Hollywood blockbuster feel about it (and it should as it had a huge $156 million budget), which is good for box office, but it doesn’t feel as raw and ‘real’ as the more compact and credible Lone Survivor.
So, there we have it. The first half of Deepwater Horizon is slow but arguably tense, the second half is depressing but arguably exciting. The movie seems honest and honourable, while Wahlberg, Russell and Malkovich are all very good value, and the CGI effects are generally credible, though sometimes you don’t really know where you are on the rig and quite what is going on. For all the technical explanations at the start, it still seems a bit baffling. and it is certainly baffling at the end how Russell’s character goes from blinded to seeing again conveniently.
The film reminded me a lot of The Finest Hours (2016) about the US Coast Guard’s rescue attempt off the coast of Cape Cod when a pair of oil tankers are destroyed during a blizzard in 1952. But, as that was a box office flop, maybe that isn’t a good thing.
Ethan Suplee does well as honest Joe oilman Jason Anderson, but Kate Hudson is wasted as the token woman, Wahlberg’s wife who just sits and waits, and Dylan O’Brien is wasted too as Wahlberg’s heroic sidekick. You expect actor Peter Berg to be good at directing actors, and he is, but he can do miracles if the script doesn’t give the actors enough to go on. Fortunately, Wahlberg, Russell and Malkovich all have enough to score strongly.
© Derek Winnert 2016 Movie Review
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