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“Deepwater Horizon” 2016 TIFF Movie Review by Gregmo Roberts

We all remember the images of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.  Millions of gallons of oil spewed from the ocean floor for 87 days all captured and broadcast with a live internet feed.  It was the worst oil spill in US history and BP oil has paid over $70 billion in fines and clean-up efforts.  

deepwater_horizon_ver7_xlgBut what you might not remember is that the spill occurred when the floating oil rig Deepwater Horizon suffered a catastrophic explosion which resulted in the loss of 11 crew lives.  Director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) again teams up with actor Mark Wahlberg in an attempt to bring the fascinating and heroic story to audiences in the action-biopic Deepwater Horizon.

Wahlberg plays Mike Williams who was the chief electronics technician for Transocean on the Deepwater Horizon.  Scheduled to work upon the oil rig for just a few weeks, Williams along with Transocean offshore installation manager Jimmy Harrell (played by Kurt Russell) quickly identify that BP has cut corners with safety measures in an attempt to hit production targets.  “Money, money, money” one of the operators sings as his conclusion to BP’s negligence.  

Concerns represented by Williams and Harrell do little to convince on-site BP officials to radically change course and slow operations until all safety precautions have been taken.  Their disregard resulted in a high pressure methane gas explosion that engulfed the rig platform.  One hundred and five crew members were on board when the explosion took place at approximately 9:45PM CMT.  Ninety-Four were rescued.  Eleven crew were never found.  

Wahlberg and Russell are both convincing in their respective roles.  It might be difficult in theory to rationalize Wahlberg as an electronics technician, but the versatile actor convincingly plays a smart family-oriented blue-collar worker and the ultimate hero of the film.  

Much of the first reel deals with BP’s neglect and the conflict with the experienced workers aboard the rig.  The unflattering digs are not discreet and we imagine that BP in no way will be exultant to see how Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand’s screenplay shines the light on corporate greed.  Berg does his best to try and describe the safety tests that took place aboard the vessel, but it’s not until the first explosion that audiences will become engaged in the horrific ordeal.  

Berg is no stranger to blowing things up.  We all want to forget 2010’s Battleship, but it likely did expose Berg to A-Level special effects and they are on full display here.  The Deepwater Horizon replica is considered the largest set ever built and Berg most have took delight in completely devastating the platform with pyro techniques and theatre rattling explosions.  Kurt Russell ran through fires and explosions in 1991’s Backdraft, but things are turned up a notch here.  

As an action film, Deepwater Horizon works wonderfully well.  For certain, audiences will not bored through the blasts and heroics of our protagonists.  Where the film does falter is in its emotional appeal.  Although we get a small glimpse into the home life of Mike Williams (his wife is played by Kate Hudson who acts with father Kurt Russell for the first time), the film doesn’t pull at the heartstrings for the eleven souls lost that fateful April evening.   They are memorialized before the end credits role, but they are lost in the shuffle of action packed sequences that consume the 107-minute running time of Deepwater Horizon.  

The film is still important.  It is important that we learn from our mistakes and that we remember the fallen.  It’s just unfortunate that Berg was unable to take a gallant story and turn it into something that acted as historical reference, casual entertainment and emotional groundwork that would evoke change in big industry standards.  


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