River Monsters: “Deepwater Horizon” simply but grippingly told
Deepwater Horizon (2016)
107 min., rated PG-13.
Documenting the worst oil disaster in U.S. history, “Deepwater Horizon” is simply but grippingly told. Being based on true events—and opening with an audio play of one of the survivors about to give his sworn testimony in court—the film risks lacking suspense, and yet that never seems to be a problem. Director Peter Berg (2014’s “Lone Survivor”) skillfully relives the BP oil drilling rig explosion and fire that happened on April 20, 2010 to 126 crew members. It’s a realistic, immensely scary dramatization mounted with harrowing intensity, just not much more than that, landing somewhere between a pyrotechnic-laden disaster pic and survivalist human drama.
Leaving wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and daughter Sydney (Stella Allen) for 21 days and nights, technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) goes off on a routine tour of duty on Deepwater Horizon, an oil drilling rig 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana. His boss, Captain Jim Harrell (Kurt Russell), is angered by the BP executives’ go-ahead to run a pressure test that ensures the integrity of the oil well with malfunctioning equipment. Despite the readings of red-zone pressure, the Transocean workers follow through with the test to make up for BP being behind schedule and over their budget. Then, a geyser of mud, gas and water erupts through the pipe, and the vessel is engulfed in flames. With debris and fire surrounding him, Mike must risk his own safety to rescue his remaining crew members.
Scrupulously crafted and technically imposing, “Deepwater Horizon” is an honorable story of heroism and survival. Basing their screenplay on David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul’s New York Times article “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours,” screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan (2013’s “World War Z”) and Matthew Sand (2009’s “Ninja Assassin”) are streamlined and workmanlike in their handling of characters. A scene at home, where Mike’s daughter Sydney (Stella Allen) practices showing and telling about her science project, is pretty on the nose. When the Coke can, standing in as the oil rig, explodes, it’s some heavy foreshadowing for what’s to come, and yet, it’s an efficient way to introduce outsiders to how deepwater oil drilling works. Jimmy Harrell asks one of the clueless BP workers to remove his magenta tie because the color signifies a severe warning in their industry. In the first half once the characters are on board, a lot of the shop talk—while more comprehensible than “The Big Short”—will go over many heads, but it’s accessibly conveyed. As director Peter Berg mounts the lead-up to the oil blowout with a fair amount of dread, waiting for the explosion is like lying in wait for the shark from “Jaws” to attack.