As I trudged wearily into the shop floor at around 2200 hours wearing my yellow-colored hard hat, the familiar refluxive and reflexive gut feel kicked in every night, the white fluorescent lamps ensconced inside wired mesh cages doing little to dispel the darkness that invariably descended inside of me. The drainage gutters on either side of the plant added to the atmospheric moue, the chemical vapors singeing my olfactory system, not ever washing out of my mucous membranes so long as I worked the oil-soaked factory floors. I’m not fishing for sympathy here, but to open my window of empathy to you, and the emotions that overwhelmed me as I watched director Peter Berg’s 2016 Deepwater Horizon in my home theater.
Based on the 2010 oil spill and explosion that consumed the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the movie, in its 107-minute run stuns, shocks, and horrifies with an effect seldom seen in disaster biopics. Director Berg obviously knows his craft, as he opens the movie even as the production credits float in, nothing else but the company names fading in and out of the screen, the dialogues obviously emanating from a courtroom, and you hear Michael “Mike” Williams (Mark Wahlberg) testifying about the explosion, the lack of warning signals that point to malfunctioning equipment. And then, the camera zooms inside the ocean bed, showing you rugged pipelines and equipment, looking good, but you know something’s amiss, as bubbles spring up from seemingly nowhere, and rise up and you’re whooshed into flashback on the fateful day of April 10, 2010.
As is with disaster movies, you’re led into the close-ups of major characters, whose lives you know will be upended long before they know it. Here, it’s Mike, Chief Electronics Technician at Transocean, the company that’s discovering oil wells for BP, and his family – daughter of ten and wife Felicia (Kate Hudson, lending can-and-able support); elsewhere, rig navigation officer Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), her sputtering car and Ducati-loving boyfriend; and arriving at the port, rig supervisor James ” Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell) with BP officials Sims (Joe Chrest) and O’Bryan (James DuMont.) The crew flies in in Bristow helicopters to the rig, and there’s an incident even as they’re above the ocean that’ll make you miss a heartbeat, it’s done that well.
On the rig, it becomes very clear to Mr. Jimmy that a pressure test to check cementing job meant to keep the oil well stable, hasn’t been run, the crew’s been sent back by BP management Robert Kaluza (Brad Leland) and Don Vidrine (John Malkovich.) Mr. Jimmy has a run in with Vidrine, forcing the latter to run a negative pressure test, and is then pulled into an award ceremony, ironically for safety, by Sims and O’Bryan. Vidrine obviously does things that trigger off the disaster, and you’re sucked right into it. It is to director Berg’s credit that he keeps you engaged in wide-eyed mode right through, even when you quite don’t understand what the negative pressure test does exactly. But, despite yourself, you’re staring at the instrumentation dials as if your life depends on it, high on yips, walking a tightrope on your seat that’s now at the receiving end of your clutching motion.
There’s some very nicely done scenes and dialogues that are a precursor to the disaster. Note the one where Vidrine clasps his hands behind his head, and you notice his shirt’s sweat-stained armpits. Moments later, as Mike lists all that is wrong on the rig, you realize why director Berg gave you that. And when the inevitable happens, the visuals are visceral, stunning you into involuntary gasps, you hoping against hope that all will end well for all the crew.
Deepwater Horizon has a cast that’s deftly in tune with the script written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, which in turn was based on the New York Times article, Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours, penned by David Barstow, David Rohde, and Stephanie Saul. Mark Wahlberg is good at being the vulnerable yet brave heart, and here he’s both with an act that’s effortless. Kurt Russell as Mr. Jimmy is just right, the man you’d go to for advice for anything, and Russell kills it with a knowing drawl that ensconces his character’s prophetic wisdom. And John Malkovich has to only sneer to reflect corporate greed and ruthlessness, and he does it with hateful panache. Steve Jablonsky’s background score is relentlessly ominous, using bobbing, snarling synthesizers, shearing violins, and a moody, bassy boom that never lets you forget what you’ll be in for.
Underneath the disaster and tragedy that it so effectively depicts, Deepwater Horizon is actually a monster movie a la Jurassic Park or Alien. The monster might be the mud that begins to flood the pipelines, but the pipeline of evil that carries it is very much human, that prioritizes with heartlessness, above all, profits and production. And the bigger take away? If your job doesn’t require you to wear a hard hat, stop complaining.
Deepwater Horizon is rated UA (unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance for children below the age of twelve). There’s some explosive action sure to stir up emotions.
Director Peter Berg Running Time 1h 47 min
Writers Matthew Michael Carnahan, Matthew Sand
Stars Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich
Genres Action,Drama, Thriller
Watch the trailer of Deepwater Horizon here: