Film review: Real-life disaster drama Deepwater Horizon turns up the heat after a slow first half

The set pieces are brilliantly choreographed – you can almost feel the heat as the flames leap into the sky.
Mark Wahlberg plays chief electronic technician Mike Williams in Deepwater Horizon. David Lee / Summit via AP
Mark Wahlberg plays chief electronic technician Mike Williams in Deepwater Horizon. David Lee / Summit via AP

Deepwater Horizon

Director: Peter Berg

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, John Malkovich

Three stars

While the name Deepwater Horizon might not be instantly familiar, the carnage it caused most certainly will be. It is the name of the offshore drilling rig that in 2010 exploded in a huge fireball in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and eventually sinking the facility.

The resultant oil spill became the worst disaster in the history of the petroleum industry. With crude leaking from the sea-floor for 87 days, an estimated 210 million tonnes spilt into the water – causing untold ­environmental damage.

Director Peter Berg ­dramatises the events leading up to the explosion, blending ­documentary-like verisimilitude with dramatic tropes recognisable from classic Hollywood disaster movies of the 1970s.

It is a strange beast, truth be told. The first half feels almost impenetrable, laced with oil-industry jargon – “kill lines”, anyone? – that will leave most viewers baffled, while Berg gradually introduces the characters that will face this horror full-on. The best option is simply to sit tight and expect the worst.

Channelling his trademark everyman blue-collar ­persona, Mark Wahlberg – who worked with Berg on his 2013 ­Afghanistan war movie Lone Survivor – plays chief electronic technician Mike Williams.

He’s the quietly dependable family man, married to a stay-at-home mother, played by Kate Hudson, and father to a young daughter – whose convenient presence allows him to give the audience a layman’s explanation of an oil gusher, using a soft-drink can and straw.

The ever-dependable Kurt Russell is grizzled crew chief Jimmy Harrell – everyone calls him “Mr Jimmy” – who spends the first half of the film warning everyone that the Deepwater Horizon has deep-rooted safety issues. Then there’s John Malkovich as ruthless BP oil-­company executive Donald Vidrine, who ignores Harrell’s concerns. Complete with an off-the-wall Cajun accent that threatens to capsize every scene he’s in, Malkovich’s ­casting as the villain is typical Berg – proof that despite its serious real-life subject matter, Deepwater Horizon is not a film that has time for subtle ­character work.

After this slow-burner of a first-half, which is more than frustrating, Berg unleashes the action, as Deepwater Horizon becomes a modern-day Towering Inferno. The set pieces are brilliantly choreographed – you can almost feel the heat as the flames leap into the sky.

But it’s the aftermath that really burns you. Leading the charge is Wahlberg. Rarely has he been this good – or allowed himself to be this vulnerable – as a man left shell-shocked by what he sees.

With Berg hinting at the ­ecological horror that has been unleashed, it’ll leave you spent by the end.

• Deepwater Horizon is in cinemas now

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: September 28, 2016 04:00 AM

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