Director: Peter Berg
Writer: Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand; Deepwater Horizon's Final Hours
by David Barstow, David Rohde, and Stephanie Saul
Cinematography: Enrique Chediak
Producer: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian, Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, and David Womark
by Jon Cvack
This is one of a handful of films that I never got to write about; residing at the bottom of a long backlog of films I had to write about, which by the time I cleared, I had forgotten all of the details. I had loved the film, seeing it as a successful throwback to the 90s disaster porn era when films balanced their reliance on digital versus practical effects. Some might complain about embellishment or exploitation, and there would be legitimate points to be made, but I assume most of them would appreciate having a document that will forever commemorate one of the most extreme industrial disasters of modern times and that the largest possible audience would get to see what happened.
The film opens up with one of the few digital-looking shots of the film, traveling through an underwater oil pipeline where the mechanics are starting to fail. Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) wakes from the dream next to his wife Felicia Williams (Kate Hudson), heading to the kitchen where his daughter is working on a school project about what her father does for a living. Mike and his crew do not actually drill for any oil. They prepare the rig for drilling. In this case, laying down cement to ensure against any leaks and pumping any excess mud out. Mike demonstrates this by poking a hole into the beer can with a straw and then dumping honey into the straw. Moments later, the soda can explodes and a massive stream of coke flows out. Aside from whether Mike knew it’d make a mess, the demonstration provides a creative exposition and avoids having the technical facts weighing down the momentum.
What’s lately been missing from Hollywood non-franchise blockbusters is a reliance on the image to create the world. In this case we follow Mike as he crosses the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, where the swamps extend as far as the eye can see. He arrives at a helicopter transport facility where we then get to meet some of his crew; including Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) as the rig’s time operator (it’s a floating rig, requiring the operator to constantly preserve the ship's position) and his boss James "Mr. Jimmy" Harrell (Kurt Russell). They fly out, discovering a crew of safety inspectors hopping back into the helicopters, explaining to Mr. Jimmy that the BP reps canceled the latest pressure test to ensure that the concrete would hold for drilling.
BP’s team is led by Robert Kaluza (Brad Leland) and Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich; giving one of his finest performances of the decade) who have grown frustrated that there’s been a 40-day delay due to safety regulations. While a $300 billion-dollar company, they simply don't want to spend $150,000 on another test; a point Mr. Jimmy raises, going on to say that his responsibility is to the crew and ship BP is renting from the company.
They head down to the drill site where a bunch of young twenty-somethings work in clean bright red uniforms, preparing for the next test. They run it and the pressure signals it’s far past the safety levels. However, Donald Vidrine challenges the theory, believing the fact that there’s no mud being pushed out (per the soda can) indicates that rocks and debris have likely plugged the hole, causing the pressure as a result. He demands they run the test on the kill line. While doubtful of the logic, Mr. Jimmy agrees, who’s then taken away by Robert Kaluza to be awarded a safety prize. Robert gets a couple of snapshots, and while never specified, it seems to serve as an insurance policy in the event of a disaster; that is, if something happened, it’d be the fault of the award-winning Mr. Jimmy.
The kill line shows minimal pressure, indicating that it looks good to pump the mud out. Mr. Jimmy approves and so they begin and within moments the massive pressure of rocks, mud, and oil explode out of the well. The fumes work their way into the air ducts which triggers an explosion throughout the ship when the well catches fire. The crew attempts to evacuate as Andrea tries to maintain control of the ship; wishing to cut the line and stopped by one of the Deepwater Horizon crew managers who clearly doesn’t want to lose his deep-pocketed employer. Mike goes on to save Jimmy and they join up with Andrea; trying to slice the line and release the rig, which fails, leaving them all to have to abandon ship.
While the closing moments were a bit heavy on the special effects (I wonder how much they embellished), the second half’s action sequences are as good as any disaster porn action movie. It’s a film that attempts to explain what happened while demonstrating the nightmarish consequences of greed and its unregulated consequences. I appreciate the story being told from Mike and his crew’s perspective, in that while still participating in offshore drilling, they were also the ones trying to make it as safe as possible in order to avoid potential disaster. Deepwater Horizon provides that old fashioned summertime blockbuster experience.
BELOW: One of John Malkovich's best roles from the decade
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