Friday, September 30, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Many of the "new" films I've seen over the past year have been based on true-life stories. Examples include THE 33 (2015), THE FINEST HOURS (2016), and SULLY (2016).

I was able to take this morning off from work and check out another film in this genre, DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016). It's a disaster film treatment of the 2010 BP oil spill which is quite gripping.

While the film has villains in the form of BP employees (led by John Malkovich), the focus is mainly on the the heroes working to save lives in the aftermath of the blowout and fire. It's a well-made white-knuckle film.

Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell play employees of Transocean, which leased the rig to BP; Wahlberg's Mike Williams is chief electronics tech and Russell is "Mr. Jimmy" Harrell, the rig manager. It's a constant battle with BP, with the Transocean employees worried about corners being cut and BP worried about budget and schedule.

Very soon, of course, it all goes wrong, with a monster blowout leading to gas explosions and a horrific fire. Those on the rig struggle to survive and save their colleagues while the Coast Guard and other ships head to the rig to rescue survivors.

The disaster sequences are simultaneously exciting and disturbing, culminating in two characters having to make a very long jump into a fiery ocean. I frankly closed my eyes for what probably totaled a few minutes of the movie, but despite needing to dodge some upsetting images I found it an interesting and worthwhile film.

One of the things I particularly liked about the movie was the way it gives viewers a peek at the unique world of working offshore, from the airport specializing in flying employees back and forth to rigs to glimpses of what it's like living and working in close quarters.

I was also intrigued by Andrea (Gina Rodriguez), a young woman working on the Deepwater Horizon, and would have liked to learn just a bit more about how she ended up in a male-dominated field.

Wahlberg, enjoyed by me in CONTRABAND (2012) and THE ITALIAN JOB (20013), is very good as the "ordinary guy" turned hero, and Russell is particularly effective as the worn, gruff station chief. The way his men call him "Mr. Jimmy," with equal measures respect and affection, was a nice shorthand way of conveying his character's standing.

Kate Hudson as Wahlberg's wife is able to bring a little more personality to her "wife on the phone" (or computer!) role than Laura Linney had time to do in SULLY, but the focus is for the most part on the people on the Deepwater Horizon. Hudson's mother, as many will already know, is Goldie Hawn, Russell's longtime significant other; Hudson and Russell only share one brief moment in the movie.

DEEPWATER HORIZON was directed by Peter Berg (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS). It was filmed by Enrique Chediak. The running time is 107 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for "prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images." On the plus side are depictions of both rig employees and first responders risking their lives to save others.

The reviews I've read have mostly been strong, particularly for those willing to set aside questions of real life versus movie. I was interested that Leonard Maltin was left "unsettled" by the merging of disaster film with true events; however, as Maltin's own review indicates, this film is part of a popular genre.

The movies I mentioned in my opening paragraph all had similar disaster themes; I tend to think of such films as "inspired" by real life and try as much as possible to take them on their own terms, separating the real people involved in the events from a story which is necessarily told with dramatic license.

For more on DEEPWATER HORIZON visit Lou Lumenick's review at the New York Post -- his last review before retiring! -- Justin Chang's review for the L.A. Times, or Brian Truitt's writeup for USA Today.

A trailer is on YouTube.


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