It feels like only a few years ago that the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon’s damaged wellhead was spreading across the Gulf of Mexico like an ever-expanding zombie outbreak. But for all that we know about the spill and it’s aftermath, the details around what happened leading up to the explosion and destruction on the massive floating platform is largely only mentioned on the news in passing. Now we get a Hollywood version of the fateful events of April 20th, 2010 and it’s a tragic roller coaster ride.
The film only spends the briefest of time on land, setting up the family-man backstory for Chief Electrical Technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) before climbing onto a BP company helicopter and heading out to sea. Even just seeing the rig on screen sets up an immediate dread because we know what’s going to happen. There are the characters are playing the traditional roles of bean-counting company men (led by John Malkovich who is drawn so evil that he really should have a long mustache to twirl while he talks), inspectors pointing out the flaws and shortcuts, and individuals who are about to pay the price. Here it is even more poignant because it’s not a fiction.
Director Peter Berg’s career has been definitely hit and miss, from the beautiful crusades epic The Kingdom to the hot mess that was Battleship. However here he’s crafted one of the best long-form action pieces since Fury Road. Berg builds the tension, cutting from the real video footage of the sea floor where the wellhead connects to pressure gages and the various noises of the rig. Wahlberg and installation manager Jimmy Harrell (played by Kurt Russell) are painted in near-mythic strokes. And the Hollywood-ization of the narrative highlighting the evils of the corporations who rolled the dice is anything but subtle.
However, the attention isn’t kept too long on the proselytizing, and once things start to go south, Berg pushes the throttle ahead full and it doesn’t let up until nearly the very end. Once it starts, there’s little time for anything but a desperate race to first try to stop the collapse, and when that fails – to try to save as many people possible.
Wahlberg and Russell are both perfect casting. The former when playing the American boy action hero type wears it like a glove, and the latter is one of the few commanding presences on screen that can be mortally injured yet still direct a crew.
It’s an intense action flick, and since it relates to a very recent event that claimed the lives of 11 very real rig workers, it makes it all the more engaging. It’s definitely a recommended watch.
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