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Review: ‘Deepwater Horizon’ gives an intense look at 2010 disaster

2016-10-07-deepwater-horizon-movie-posterBy MARK VIOLA

On April 20, 2010, a catastrophic failure aboard the floating Deepwater Horizon oil rig resulted in the country’s worst oil spill in history. The impacts from the spill were felt across the Gulf of Mexico from Louisiana to Florida. While I in no means want to downplay how badly residents and business owners, not to mention the Gulf’s wildlife, were affected by the spill, I can’t help but notice that most people tend to forget that the disaster onboard Deepwater Horizon killed 11 people.

So when I heard Hollywood was making a movie about the disaster and focuses on the oil rig itself, I was intrigued. I was also concerned, however, because Hollywood tends to preach its stories rather than tell them.

Fortunately, “Deepwater Horizon” is directed by Peter Berg, who delivered another intense true story about a horrific event in “Lone Survivor.” He re-teams with that film’s star Mark Wahlberg here and a cast that also includes Kurt Russell (“The Hateful Eighttttt”), John Malkovich (“Crossbones”), Kate Hudson (“Mother’s Day”) and Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”).

“Deepwater Horizon” mostly quashed my concerns by focusing its story on the people directly facing the deadly disaster. I hate using the word “entertaining” when we’re watching a real-life story in which people died just six years ago, but the film is an intense and thrilling action drama that delivers just what I was looking for.

The story centers around engineering technician Mike Williams (Wahlberg) who is returning to Deepwater Horizon for another one-month stay after a brief break home with his wife Felicia (Hudson). Mike works for Transocean, which owns and operates Deepwater Horizon under contract with BP, which has the rights to the drill site.
Returning on the same helicopter flight is Mike’s boss Jimmy Harrell (Russell) as well as Andrea Fleytas (Rodriguez), who is one of the rig’s pilots.
Mike and Jimmy arrive on Deepwater Horizon to find the crew preparing to wrap up their work on the drill site, finalizing preparations before leaving to make room for a separate crew to begin actually pumping the undersea oil. That decision was made by BP executive Donald Vidrine (Malkovich) and is one that Jimmy doesn’t support. The movie follows the hours leading up to the disaster and then the crew’s efforts to escape with their lives.

While the film doesn’t preach, it does lay out what–on the surface–seems to be a rather one-sided view of the situation. I don’t claim to know what exactly happened and who in particular was at fault, but I get concerned when a movie purporting to tell a true story does so in a way that everything seems to fit in line very neatly with the narrative they are trying to get across to the audience. In this case, we have the Transocean’s employees continuously being concerned about what the BP officials are ordering them to do, while those officials, especially Donald Vidrine, ignore them at every turn and insist everything is alright.

My other story issue is the fact that Mike Williams becomes a hero at every turn, saving fellow employees and risking his life on several occasions to get a generator restarted. Again, this may be how it all went down that day, but at least one scene is actually contradicted in part by some of Williams’ real-life testimony played at the end of the movie. I don’t know what truly happened and it could have happened exactly as it does in the movie, but as I said, when things play out a little too neatly, I get concerned.

Those story concerns aside, however, this is a really compelling movie. Once the disaster begins, the scope of the situation comes across on the big screen. In fact, this is one of those rare times that I can say I have no idea how they made the movie look so realistic. If you told me they built a life-size oil rig and then set it on fire, I would believe you, because it looks that real. There’s never a moment–outside a few cutaway scenes to the ocean floor–where it felt like I was watching special effects.

While I do have a few concerns about just how accurate “Deepwater Horizon” is at times, there’s no denying just how intense and compelling it is and how realistically it recreates the moments in question.

The film is rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images.

 

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