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Review: Deepwater Horizon

September 30, 2016

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Deepwater Horizon PosterDramatizing the events of April 20th, 2010, when an offshore oil drilling rig owned by British Petroleum exploded off the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in the worst oil spill in United States history, Deepwater Horizon is a piece of sturdy blockbuster filmmaking.

The first half of the film sets up its characters.  This includes hardworking engineer and family man Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), who is leaving behind his wife (Kate Hudson) and young daughter (Stella Allen) to work on the rig, young crew member Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), a seasoned veteran employee affectionately named Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell), and the villainous BP executive (John Malkovich) trying to save a few bucks by skipping crucial pressure tests.

After the character development and technical jargon that the script packs into its first stretch, the second half of Deepwater Horizon shows the disaster unfold in gripping and realistic detail.  Director Peter Berg depicts it all in admirably authentic and often stirring ways, shooting much of the film on a near-scale recreation of the oil rig, which was built on a soundstage at an abandoned Six Flags in Louisiana, and using practical effects whenever possible.  Mark Wahlberg does a good job of carrying the film and continues to prove himself as a dependable and eminently likeable action star in the leading role, backed up by a fine supporting cast that helps flesh out the real human element behind the special effects.

The film could have put a bit more focus on the irreversible environmental damage of this disaster, with the fact that an estimated 210 million gallons of oil was spilled into the Gulf of Mexico being saved for a postscript at the end.  But the images of billowing smoke and flames rising up into the atmosphere, and a bird drenched in oil flying disoriented onto the rig and dying onboard, speak for themselves in showing the devastating impact the explosion had upon wildlife and the environment.

As a whole, Deepwater Horizon delivers pretty much exactly what you would expect from a big budget dramatization of this devastating man-made disaster.  Expertly crafted on a technical scale, this is an engaging and well-acted action drama, that celebrates the people whose lives were affected by this disaster and their heroism amidst harrowing events, and serves as an emotional tribute to the eleven workers who sadly didn’t make it through.

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