Film Review: Deepwater Horizon is a very effective human drama/thriller

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Hollywood has been churning out these real-life disaster/survival movies en masse as of late with films like The 33, Everest, 13 Hours and others of a similar nature we have seen both ends of the quality spectrum as well. Basically, this film teaches you to just not let Michael Bay anywhere near a disaster/true story-type film and you should be alright. This is a taut thriller with elements of human drama thrown in, a good deal of build-up (arguably a bit too much?) and some really satisfying action in the second half.

What we have here is a story based around the biggest oil spill in U.S. history – BP (yes, that infamous oil company that doesn’t have such a good reputation and with good reason) workers are forced to push the limitations of what they can do aboard a large oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico to the point where they encounter a disaster of epic proportions. We follow Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), a middle-class hard-working man with a beautiful wife (Kate Hudson) and child who goes to this rig just as he would for any other day on the job. However, on this particular day we get omens throughout that something may not be up to snuff.

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What we have here is a terrific action/thriller with some intense drama and some fine acting to boot. The biggest positives about the film include many different aspects but the first big one is the drama and the build-up. Everyone knows what is coming in the second half of the film but the way in which the movie plays with your expectations and plants little foreshadowing moments throughout is kinda clever and unique. There is a scene early on in which Wahlberg’s daughter demonstrates a little science experiment for school that will show her classmates what her father’s job entails. Not only is it a nice moment with some good character material for Wahlberg and Hudson but when the experiment goes somewhat wrong, it also sets up the rest of the film nicely. The stuff later on where everyone starts to worry about the safety precautions that they have failed to take is interesting too and features some fine acting, particularly by John Malkovich, who plays a southern BP representative. Malkovich is clearly a villain here (as is BP in general in this film) but he is such a skilled actor that it never feels one-dimensional nor that he’s trying too hard to be a bad guy. He also uses a very unrecognizable accent. I actually tried to look away and see if I could even recognize him by voice-only and he hides his familiar cadence expertly.

I’ve already sung the praises of Malkovich but there is some fine acting from everyone else involved as well. Mark Wahlberg plays a strong leading man as he usually does in movies of this ilk. He has an everyman quality about him but also comes across like a tough guy, which makes him perfect for films like this. Kurt Russell does a great job here as well as a guy who is always at odds with Malkovich. In fact, their scenes together are terrific – just two awesome actors being awesome. Kate Hudson (who I haven’t seen in a movie in FOREVER) does well as Wahlberg’s supportive wife. She still has her beautiful features and they utilize those to their fullest extent throughout the film. Hudson also does well with emotional scenes; she’s always been able to hold her own there.

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Of course, for the action fans in the crowd there is plenty of that as well. The difference between the action and thrills in this movie versus a lot of other ones is that this movie also has a lot of really good characterization with the main actors and allows for the violence to have a lot more visceral impact. You really feel the plight of the crewmembers involved as they struggle to survive. The special effects are excellent and nothing ever feels too CGI-heavy or fabricated. There are some really cool shots of the oil build-up inside the actual tubes as well and it builds the tension really well. I also am very thankful that they didn’t do what I thought was a mistake with an earlier film this year, Sully, by showing the aftermath at the beginning of the film. The story starts at the beginning and ends at the end. See, folks? It’s not that hard.

The only small flaws in the film are that the build-up does get a little long in the tooth and a few characters were maybe not as well-developed as the rest but that’s to be expected in a movie with such a large cast. This is a terrific October release and hopefully gets people back on BP’s case for causing this awful atrocity.

****

 

Rating System:

* (Brutal; the worst rating)

** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)

*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)

**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)

***** (Flawless; a true achievement)