When you hear the words “Deepwater Horizon,” I’ll bet two additional words spring immediately to mind: “environmental catastrophe.”
Or maybe three: “massive oil spill.”
The movie “Deepwater Horizon” does not tell that story. Only at the very end does it allude to that aspect of the disaster, and then only with title cards.
This picture concerns itself solely with the hours leading up to the April 20, 2010, explosion of the deep drilling oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana and its immediate aftermath as the 126 people aboard desperately scrambled to survive the blasts and fires that destroyed the structure.
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That makes a certain amount of sense. It keeps the picture’s focus tight, on the blue-collar men and women who run the rig. A tale of a fight for survival is much more relatable than a more sprawling narrative encompassing devastated animal life, ruined shorelines, economic dislocations and complicated litigation.
Reuniting director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, whose Afghanistan war movie “Lone Survivor” was a big hit in 2013, “Deepwater” puts its spotlight on Wahlberg’s character, the rig’s chief electronics technician, Mike Williams.
The movie is neatly divided into nearly equal halves. The first half is all setup as Williams and his co-workers (including his boss, played by Kurt Russell) grapple with a variety of mechanical malfunctions plaguing the structure. At the same time, they’re dealing with pressures from some visiting corporate types, headed by a character played by John Malkovich at his most sardonic and sinister, to get the rig running properly. This section is so heavy with nearly impenetrable technical jargon you almost need subtitles to figure out exactly what is breaking down and why it matters.
Meanwhile, deep down at the ocean floor, ominous bubbles surge and the drill pipe creaks and groans. Finally all hell breaks loose, and it’s time for everyone to run for their lives.
The picture’s pyrotechnics are first rate, and the acting by the principals is more than serviceable.
“Deepwater” ends by showing the photos of the 11 men who died in the disaster. The reminder of that real human toll gives the picture a weight beyond that of a run-of-the-mill disaster epic.
☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien and Kate Hudson.
Director: Peter Berg.
Running time: 1:37.
Rated: PG-13, for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language.