Saturday 22 October 2016

Film Review: Deepwater Horizon

Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg reteam for another true tale of survival in Deepwater Horizon, a film that is centred around the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the titanic drilling rig explosion that proceeded it.

Wahlberg plays everyday hero Mike Williams, an engineer who routinely works for several weeks at a time away from his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) on the Deepwater Horizon, a fairly rundown rig in the Gulf of Mexico that is being pushed to brink by overbearing execs from BP, chief among them being Vidrine (John Malkovich).

Eager to get the rig back on schedule, the execs are running the crew ragged and regularly skip important safety procedures, much to the chagrin of the foreman Jimmy (Kurt Russell) - a decision that proves to be fatal when an excess of pressure in the drill pipe overwhelms the system and causes a cataclysmic explosion of swirling flames, oil, mud and seawater. Trapped at sea and with the rig collapsing around them, the crew must band together to save as many souls as they can before help arrives to whisk them to safety.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical of this movie going in. I find that this kind of stuff tends to fall into two common traps, the first of which is being overly jingoistic and the second being a little exploitative. I mean, it's hardly been any time at all since the incident itself - does Hollywood really need to swoop in and scoop it up straight away?

However, as it turns out, Deepwater Horizon is a genuinely affecting slice of survival cinema where compelling characters aren't supplemented for meaningless destruction and mayhem. Isn't it nice being surprised by how good something is?

Firstly, Berg and screenwriters Matthew Sand and Michael Carnahan understand the importance of reigning in the flag-waving and not being too cloying. The film is a tribute to the deceased, but it never feels like an attempt to make a quick buck. It's a testament to how affecting the writing is and how fleshed out the characters are.

Secondly, the film keeps the action reigned in. I was half expecting the film the begin with the explosion before flashing back to the start of something like that. Thankfully, the film plays it straight - we begin with a prologue at Mike's home before it bids farewell to his family and catches a flight to the rig. Here we meet the rest of the crew, including Andrea (Gina Rodriguez) and Caleb (Dylan O'Brian). It isn't until deep into the second act that the shit hits the fan, with Berg ensuring that the tension builds gently rather than bursting forth and jumping the gun. 

From here, Deepwater Horizon is compelling in an entirely different way to before. The action plays out in phases, with the story unfolding visually through stunning VFX of unfurling smoke and licking flames. Piece by piece, the rig starts to fall apart, with our characters helplessly clinging to any means of escape they can. It's a potent mixture of action and emotion that doesn't end with rescue, but continues through to an affecting epilogue that had me genuinely choked up.

The Verdict: 8/10

Simple, straightforward and all the better for it, Deepwater Horizon smartly holds back on going full Michael Bay by pacing the film to perfection and dedicating plenty of time to actual character development and emotion. 

Deepwater Horizon is in cinemas across Australia now

1 comment:

  1. Super surprising review! The trailer didn't make me feel like the movie was going to offer much, but it sounds interesting. I'll have to give it a go sometime. :)



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