September 30, 2016

Deepwater Horizon

How an oil rig works, honey, is first
I drink your milkshake.

Grade: B
Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez and John Malkovich
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

The oil industry jargon in Deepwater Horizon spews forth like a gusher: “Schlumberger”; “negative press test”; “kill line”; “mud displacement”; “blowout preventer.” The audience is left to its own devices to divine the meaning of these terms, but that’s far from a demerit. It’s just one instance of the verisimilitude that imbues this well-made and admittedly surface-deep film about the 2010 BP oil spill.

Everything we learn about each of the film’s characters is gleaned inside their opening 30 seconds of screen time. Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg, still hitting above his weight in film choices) is the cocksure electrical tech for the titular BP-leased, Transocean-owned floating semi-submersible drilling unit. Felicia (Kate Hudson), Mike’s wife, is the fretting spouse back home. Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) is the gruff, no-nonsense rig manager, who we first meet dressing down an oil exec for wearing a magenta tie, since that’s the color of a full-scale alarm (Foreshadowing!). Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) is the capable navigation operator and the only female crewmember. And every BP suit—led by Donald Vidrine, played by John Malkovich and his gonzo Cajun accent—is a money-hungry villain eager to get the Macondo oil well flowing after going 43 days behind schedule and $53 million over budget.

Against the better judgment (we’re told) of Harrell and Williams, Vidrine orders that drilling commence despite inconsistent pressure tests on the rig’s drill and kill lines. The resulting blowout kills 11 crewmen and ultimately pumps over 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Director Peter Berg’s uncompromising technical proficiency as a filmmaker is put to tremendous application here, and the result is realistic and hair-raising. Berg has an eye and ear for his setting, from the ambient noise of an offshore oil rig to the outpost’s remoteness. He also expertly conveys the catastrophic chain of events that led to the blowout and its hellish consequences. Shortly after the blowout, oil-covered gulls fly blindly onto the deck of a nearby tanker ship like a Biblical plague.

Berg has a hero worship and patriotic streak that has increasingly informed his films—The Kingdom, then Battleship, then Lone Survivor, and his upcoming Patriots Day, about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. In Deepwater Horizon, even as an inferno engulfs the oil rig, Old Glory still flaps in the foreground. While the action in Lone Survivor felt exploitative, here the real-life heroism lends heft to the visual stimulation—it’s part ‘70s disaster flick and part paean.

1 comment:

Adam said...

To the producers of Deepwater Horizon, you had me at villainous BP suit with cajun accent John Malkovich!