|UK Release Date||29th September 2016|
|Starring||Marky Mark, Kurt Russell|
|Reviewed||3rd October 2016|
Peter Berg has a lot of making up to do. There is only one thing more frustrating than watching a boring movie and that’s not even being able get far enough through it to review it. Battleship has this distinction. I’ve attempted to watch it twice and failed to get more than twenty minutes in on both occasions. Which barely registers in a movie 170 minutes long. I haven’t seen Lone Survivor but this one finds Berg back with Marky Mark….
Deepwater Horizon then is the ‘based on a true story’ tale of the unimaginable clusterfuck that was the oil disaster of the same name. Arguing over who exactly was to blame for the mess is futile in this review but for the sake of editorialising: a bunch of high level crooks systematically worked together for decades it ensure that profit was put firmly before safety and the inevitable result of this was the death of eleven workers and literally countless marine animals, leaving a horrific bill and an environmental legacy that will last for generations. BP (the owners), Transocean (the rig operators) and Halliburton (the contractors) were all found to be at varying degrees of fault in numerous subsequent investigations though BP picked up the financial tab. Berg’s movie is happy to toe the Transocean / Halliburton (who are suspiciously completely absent from the movie, though there is an actor playing a representative listed in the credits) line that this was all down to greedy BP managers.
But his is only based on a true story so I’ll leave the indignation there and head back into movie land. Marky Mark is Mike Williams, consummate family man, genius kitchen table plot expositioner and chief electrical engineer on the doomed Deepwater Rig. Mike heads off on another tour of duty on the rig with boss man Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and rig driver (I forget the technical term) Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez). Already on the rig are a bunch of stuffed BP suits, headed by strangely accented Vidrine (John Malkovich), joined by two others on Mike’s flight in. From then on, it’s essentially that bit in Titanic where the captain gets pressured into flooring the unsinkable vessel. Yeah, the concrete is just fine, nah, we don’t need to test it, we’re 43 days behind schedule, just get to the oil already damnit!
So far so predictable but here’s where Berg knocks this one out of the park. Though the result is known, the motives obvious and the story occasionally cheesy, Berg smashes out a complete masterclass in near unbearable tension. Right from the off, the director is all closeups of machinery, pieces audibly grinding together to keep this leviathan on the high seas exploring for oil. A closeup shot of the crew’s helicopter being refuelled before they depart sets the tone perfectly. Every part of this movie wants to make you feel small and incredibly susceptible to flying shrapnel. An ominous belch of air on the sea floor at the very start sets you on edge and pretty much keeps you there for a spot on 107 minutes.
The crew play their role well too. There are plenty of stereotypes here but despite that, we never quite get to pantomime booing the suits, we’re far too busy being whisked around as Russell’s barking rig boss tries desperately to establish just how close to the bone the safety measures have been cut. Wahlberg is very definitely not playing against type but his Mike is likeable enough for us to care if he makes it out or not and Berg wisely keeps the focus on the entire team, rather than spending too much time zoomed in on Williams - this is no 'one man saves the day' movie. As Malkovich repeats the fact that the company is made of countless people doing countless jobs, the rig is made from countless smalls parts all required to work in unison together, we get flashes down to the ocean floor as the oil continues to ignore what it should be doing.
Back on dry land, Kate Hudson does her best with the obligatory 'wife left at home role' and Stella Allen is wonderful as the Williams' precious daughter Sydney. To be fair to a movie almost entirely featuring men, the women aren't completely marginalised. Rodriguez's Fleytas is a pivotal role and her Gina is impressive as the pilot desperately trying to keep an entirely oil platform in one place.
And when things finally go pop (which is a good way into the movie), they go pop in some style. Two attempts to close the pipe fail, sending the mud that has been loaded on top of the oil in order to keep it in place up into the sky, flinging hapless crew members around the deck and refusing all attempts at stemming the tide. It’s not long before the lethal combination of methane gas and an explosion meet and the crew are battling to save themselves and avert the disaster we all know is coming. Amongst all this, Berg’s detail led direction is vital in sucking us into the horrific maelstrom. Shrapnel, doors, wheels, mud, fire, oil, all fly at the increasingly desperate crew as they try to man the lifeboats dropping into a flaming sea.
Whether any of this has anything significant to say about the heights to which corporate greed will go and the depths corporations will stoop in order to achieve profits is another matter entirely of course. The movie scrapes perilously close to insisting on this all being down to one company and painting an easy villain but such simplification is likely a necessary evil in order to keep the pace up. A credit sequence with the names of the eleven lives lost, along with their photos is just the right side of tasteful and doesn't carry any of the horrible connotations of, say, the credit sequence to American Sniper.
Deepwater Horizon is a genuinely thoughtful disaster movie. Dramatic necessity probably forces Berg’s hand in terms of blame (this is no courtroom drama) and equally, the monumental environmental consequences of the event are far from anyone’s mind here. But in terms of the effects on the workers involved and the fictional events of that horrible night, this is a spectacularly thrilling movie to sit through. Although the big bang takes a while to arrive, it is all the more well-earned for the journey and the creeping discomfort at times makes this a harrowing watch. More importantly, it’s says a lot for such a movie that the scene with the most impact isn’t any of the towering inferno at sea. It’s the simple shot of Wahlberg’s character weeping uncontrollably on the floor of a generic hotel bedroom after the rescue. And that speaks volumes for both actor and director.