Anyone looking for a nuanced, serious exploration of the environmental, political and economic fallout from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 — the largest oil spill and worst ecological disaster in U.S. history — or the corporate culture that contributed to it probably should avoid “Deepwater Horizon,” a film that dramatizes the hours leading up to and during the incident in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people.
But as an effects-driven disaster movie starring two totems of testosterone — Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell — and directed by Peter Berg, “Deepwater Horizon” is alarmingly effective.
Berg and his screenwriters may have sacrificed subtlety for spectacle, but it turns out not to be such a bad trade.
Wahlberg is Mike Williams, the real-life chief electronics technician who saved several lives on that evening in April 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig exploded. But we meet him several hours before that on the mainland, where he’s playing with his daughter (Stella Allen) and his wife, Felicia (Kate Hudson).
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He’s just one of several characters whose lives are going to collide that night, including crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), who gets presented with a workplace safety award just before everything goes south, and bottom-line obsessed BP exec Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich).
If Mike and Jimmy represent an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, sniveling Donald is a stand-in for its opposite: corporate cost-cutting and profit-seeking to the point of putting lives at risk. No doubt, if Berg could have found a way to have him tie a damsel-in-distress onto train tracks on the top of the oil platform, he would have.
So when Donald ignores Jimmy’s stern advice not to proceed with work because a certain test wasn’t done — they’re 43 days behind schedule after all! — the audience probably should put off any bathroom breaks or snack-bar runs.
Because everyone knows what’s coming, and it is spectacular.
From the thunderstorm of oil to the raging flames, Berg keeps everything moving as quickly as the thick liquid is flooding. At times, it’s difficult to tell who’s who and what’s happening, since everyone is covered in rivers of oil. But it’s cinematic chaos of the highest order.
Yet for all of that, while Mike, Jimmy and others come across as heroes, they’re not super-heroes. They remain relatable and mirrors of the real people they’re portraying.
As a depiction of the horror that took place on that one night in April, “Deepwater Horizon” goes off like a gusher.
Rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language. 1:47. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.