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Movie Review: #DeepwaterHorizon

Deepwater Horizon is competent, straight-forward, and absolutely mesmerizing.

Review by Matt Cummings

If Director Peter Berg's survival flick Deepwater Horizon proves anything, it's that good and decent people are usually made to suffer the will of more powerful ones, irregardless of the dangers or the facts. That's at least what Berg wants you to think, and he makes a convincing case between the concerned workers (including Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell) and those at BP (John Malkovich) who are determined to pump at this submersible offshore drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. That decision and resulting explosion in 2010 which killed 11 and became the worst oil spill in US history certainly pulls on one's heartstrings as Mike Williams (Wahlberg) desperately tries to escape the burning rig while helping his boss (Russell) and other workers.

Things start off quite slowly - maybe even a little too slow - as everyday-man Williams interacts with various employees (including Dylan O'Brien) who begin to grow concerned that BP's insistence on pumping at this challenged facility was more about profits than safety. Slowly, we're made to understand how pumping oil really works, the enormous pressures that accelerate a bolt or nut to slice a car in half, and how kill pumps, negative pressure tests, and blowout preventers make up Deepwater's mission. But the movie doesn't necessarily keep its focus on the rig; that focus is centered on Wahlberg, and he carries it off with his normal precision, good looks, and genuine (almost stoic) concern for the impending danger and bloody aftermath. The side story of Williams' wife (Kate Hudson) at first isn't needed, serving as investment for a powerful epilogue that's completely necessary, although not at first. In fact, the first 70 minutes of Deepwater Horizon feels a chess game, as Williams and his boss Jimmy (Russell) set their pieces while the BP boys do the same, ultimately ignoring the various pressure tests and forcing their will onto the employees. When the purging arrives, it's like someone swept off the playing field rather than executing smart moves to thin out the herd.

Some will call this buildup a tad unnecessary, but it all pays off once the action starts. From that point, any worries of this story fizzling out or becoming a slow-motion hero flick are erased. This is a movie about decent people trying desperately to escape a burning rig, all while Williams tries his best to rescue who he can as his work burns around him. That escalation happens quickly, degrading from a series of mild pressure mishaps into a full-blown disaster. And when that moment arrives, we feel every pressurized bolt and nut that turn into bullets, every wall of fire that rips into men and machine, as well as the various sacrifices employees make to save each other. The fact that ordinary men and women can persevere unimaginable tragedies like these is perhaps Deepwater Horizon's greatest strength, never over-glamorizing the point but forcing all of us to recognize that BP's employees did several things horribly wrong.

Whether your hackles get up again at re-experiencing these events (especially when we learn how those same BP employees walked away nearly scott-free) or not, no one can argue that Berg's efficient and no-nonsense depiction of the worst disaster in US oil drilling history is one of the year's best. Bolstered by excellent performances (including Malkovich's Southern drawl), it's a worthy and welcomed relief from all of the dopey action films that flopped so spectacularly this summer. It's a must see on the big screen and comes highly recommended.

Deepwater Horizon is rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language and has a runtime of 107 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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