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Murray Journal

Dan's Review: "Deepwater Horizon" an intense look at recent history

Oct 02, 2016 01:29AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Mark Wahlberg in Deepwater Horizon - © 2016 Summit Entertainment.

Deepwater Horizon (Summit Entertainment)

Rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O'Brien, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Henry Frost, Brad Leland, Jeremy Sande.

Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, based on Deepwater Horizon's Final Hours by David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul.

Directed by Peter Berg.



The cinematic trend of late is a string of dramas based on real historic events. We’re not talking ancient history, either. These are incidents that happened only a few years ago, such as Sully (based on the “Miracle on the Hudson”), The 33 (based on the Chilean miner rescue), Captain Phillips (based on the Somali pirate Maersk hijacking), Zero Dark Thirty (based on the hunt for Osama bin Laden) and others. The cool thing about so-called “period” historical dramas is that many of us folks who didn’t pay attention in history classes usually learn something that we didn’t know about the Napoleonic Wars, Amistad or Abraham Lincoln (even if such films often embellish or at the very least fill in several otherwise boring gaps in the name of dramatic license). One of the pitfalls of quickly capitalizing on stories ripped from the headlines of 5 years ago is that most of the audience already knows the outcome of the event. We’re fully aware that Sully landed the plane and no one died, Captain Phillips was saved by sharpshooters and the Navy SEALS nabbed bin Laden. Having these events fresh on the mind takes some of the mystery out of films about them. Such is the case with Peter Berg’s depiction of the events that triggered the infamous BP oil spill in this weekend’s release of Deepwater Horizon.  Even so, there are perhaps a few things we can learn from such hasty history.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams, the head electrician on the doomed floating oil rig. His boss is Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), who openly doubts the decision of BP executive Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) to proceed with drilling despite concerns over whether or not the underwater site is stable. I don’t have to designate any spoiler alerts to report that things go south really fast when Jimmy’s concerns prove justified as a surge of mud pushes up through the drill pipe and sets of an eruption on the rig, resulting in massive explosions and fires. Most of the crew escapes, while 11 workers perish. Most of the film depicts the heroic efforts to save as many workers as possible and the worry of loved ones, like Mike Williams’ wife Felicia (Kate Hudson).

Deepwater Horizon is a very good film, despite foreknowledge of the outcome. The action is intense and the special effects are incredible, which should keep most audiences on the edge of their seats.

One flaw to Peter Berg’s interpretation of the disaster is how he handles the aftermath of the explosion. Deepwater Horizon’s third act is a series of slow motion scenes depicting an air of heroism around the film’s protagonists, while shuttling the effects of the spill into a few postscripts just before the credits roll. It’s also somewhat suspicious that Berg, along the writing team of Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand simplified the cause of the incident to Vidrine only, when in reality it was a series of errors by BP, TransOcean (the rig owner/operator) and engineers, all of who contributed to the disaster.  If you’re going to depict recent history, you might want to get that part right. On the other hand, John Malkovich makes a much better villain than a committee of engineers.

If you don’t know much about the real events of Deepwater Horizon, this movie is definitely worth seeing. If you’re fully aware of the BP oil spill, then prepare to NOT be surprised.   

Deepwater Horizon Trailer