Magazine article Variety

Deepwater Horizon

Magazine article Variety

Deepwater Horizon

Article excerpt

Deepwater Horizon


Director: Peter Berg

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell

At the end of "Diamonds Are Forever" audiences cheer when James Bond succeeds in blowing up the giant oil platform the evil Blofeld uses as his base. It's a spectacular finale, to be sure, though nowhere near as impressive as the real-life destruction wrought in "Deepwater Horizon" a stunning Hollywood restaging of the explosion that consumed the Transocean deepwater drilling rig on April 20, 2010. There's no cheering here - 11 men lost their lives in the accident, and the ensuing oil spill became the country's worst ecological disaster. And yet, despite the fact that director Peter Berg presents the action as if everyone in the audience is an engineer, the excitement is undeniable. "Deepwater Horizon" could well become one of the fall's biggest hits when it opens Sept. 30.

Berg doesn't waste much time character-building before sending his blue-collar ensemble off to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, some 49 miles from land in the Gulf of Mexico. It's a tough job, not just because this co-ed crew must spend the next 20 days away from their wives, boyfriends, and kids, but also due to the tedious, ultra-technical work that awaits them once aboard.

On this particular rotation, they're accompanied by a few suits from parent company BP, who have come along to present Transocean crew captain Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) with a workplace safety award. BP rep Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) also has come along to apply pressure to speed things up, since the rig is already 43 days behind schedule delivering oil. But we know something the characters don't: Pressure is building deep below, and the pipes won't be able to hold the oil for long.

To the extent that the movie has an agenda, it is not to demonize BP, but rather to acknowledge the men and women stuck onboard the rig when things went bad, and to honor their heroism in saving as many lives as they did. In the tradition of films such as "Apollo 11" and "Titanic," the human characters remain the focus, even as the surrounding spectacle threatens to overwhelm them.

Wahlberg plays chief electronics technician Mike Williams, who puts others' safety before his own, and back home has a worried wife (Kate Hudson in a role with more dramatic heft than Laura Linney's superficially similar turn in "Sully").

Early on, when we meet Williams, his daughter, Sydney (Stella Allen), reads a class paper about what her daddy does for a living. He "tames the dinosaurs," she says, referring to the fact that fossil fuels derive from the long-extinct creatures, and that her dad pours mud down pipes to keep the pressure from overpowering the system. The scene is meant to be foreboding (she builds a model using a soda can, which promptly explodes), but her description is presciently apt, considering what lies in store: When the raw crude bursts through those ultra-deepwater pipes, it arrives with all the destructive power of a T. rex.

"Deepwater Horizon" has more than a little in common with "Jurassic Park," both prime examples of effects-driven blockbusters, where the promise of CG carnage threatens to suffocate the pleasures of good storytelling. What's more, they both depict the consequences that occur when nature fights back against greed and a lack of humility - embodied here by Malkovich, who makes his character easy to hate: Vidrine's avarice is surpassed only by his cowardice once the meltdown begins. …

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