Deepwater Horizon
dir Peter Berg
scr Matthew Michael Carnahan, Matthew Sand
prd Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian, Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson, David Womark
with Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, John Malkovich, Dylan O'Brien, Gina Rodriguez, Ethan Suplee, Jason Kirkpatrick, Henry Frost, Brad Leland, James DuMont, Stella Allen
release US/UK 30.Sep.16
16/US Summit 1h47
Deepwater Horizon
Impending disaster: O'Brien and Wahlberg

russell hudson malkovich
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Deepwater Horizon Mark Wahlberg reteams with Lone Survivor director Peter Berg for another grounded thriller about heroic triumph amid awful tragedy. The film recounts events around the worst oil-spill in US history, when a drilling platform exploded off the coast of Louisiana in April 2010. Shot with gritty urgency, the movie has a documentary feel to it. There's also jarringly incoherent action and a pervading sense of mythical courage.

With his wife (Hudson) at home, Mike (Wahlberg) heads off for a three-week stint at sea on the offshore rig Deepwater Horizon, a 35-minute flight from land. As chief electrician, he works closely with boss Jimmy (Russell), drilling foreman Jason (Suplee) and pilot Andrea (Rodriguez). But the BP executives Don and Bob (Malkovich and Leland) are pressuring them to make up a schedule delay by hedging around some safety tests. Sure enough, the well is about to blow, engulfing the floating platform in flames.

Eleven crew members died in the disaster, and the film is careful to honour their memories, both in dramatic scenes and an epilogue. Writers Carnahan and Sand sculpt the story with standard disaster movie beats. We know tragedy is coming, Titanic-style, so every scene features some sort of corny harbinger. Thankfully, some are rather clever, such as when Mike's daughter (Allen) explains how drilling platforms work using a can of Coke and ballpoint pen.

Other moments aren't quite so subtle, but the actors have an edgy naturalism. Each character is smart and tenacious, including the company men who essentially cause the disaster by ignoring safety issues. Wahlberg, Russell, O'Brien (as a driller) and Kirkpatrick (as a crane operator) get the most heroic roles. But it's the sidelined Rodriguez who most powerfully wins over the audience, an irony clearly lost on filmmakers who so gleefully revel in masculinity.

Andrea is a clear-thinker who has moments of believable doubt and fear, like a real person, which actually makes her braver than everyone else on-screen. And this is where the film wobbles: Berg and Wahlberg simply can't allow the men to look fragile or vulnerable, unless they're the designated baddies. So the triumphant rah-rah tone seems to revel in moments of grisliness. In the end, at least film has such a realistic, thrilling style that we feel like we have survived the ordeal ourselves. But by over-celebrating the heroes, the film kind of misses the point.

cert 12 themes, language, violence .16

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