Behind every headline, there are human beings. In what is deemed the “bigger picture”—whether that involves money, political rhetoric or both—these people are often bundled into a two-digit number. And there is, perhaps, no transaction so lopsided as that of a name for a number. “Deepwater Horizon” peels back the all-encompassing headline to find an entire ecosystem of feeling human beings with names—and a whole lot of carnage.
As with anything in the disaster genre, the film opens to an eerie calm, where the air is thick and the smiles are flickering. It’s just another day at the office for the workers on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a distant island of steel that’s so ugly, only man could make it. The thing runs like clockwork, until some bigwigs from British Petroleum (BP) persuade the workers to ignore safety protocol and drill into a volatile area, despite a needle cruising past green and yellow to land firmly in the red—even a layman knows red means dead. As the all-seeing needle foretold, the Deepwater Horizon bursts at the seams with high-pressure blasts of mud and oil, which later catches fire, creating the impression that they might have drilled farther down than previously thought and cracked the ceiling of Hell.
Like Peter Berg’s last film, “Lone Survivor,” this one features an extremely hard to watch set-up, featuring cutesy dialogue between spouses and compulsory ball-breaking between colleagues. Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), the hero of the piece, has a gorgeous, loving wife in Felicia (Kate Hudson) and is portrayed as the perfect father in an interaction with his daughter. Because when a film is made about real people who went through tragic events, the filmmakers feel compelled to paint those people as perfect, out of sympathy, respect or some such thing. The sentiment is nice, but nice doesn’t make a good movie; it makes a corny, heavy-handed first act that had me rolling my eyes so much, I think I might have lost my sense of direction.
While Berg might be an emotionally manipulative filmmaker, he also happens to be incredibly talented at staging action. Everything from the calculated chaos of the camerawork to the sound design of bursting bolts, showering sludge and craniums colliding against cold drywall comes together to form an immersion few directors can harness. And in the game of immersion, 3-D is juicing up and the very 2-D “Deepwater Horizon” is old-fashioned blood, sweat and tears.
If you can get past the introduction that has the emotional subtlety of King Kong around a blonde girl, “Deepwater Horizon” is a relentless experience that will attack your senses on all fronts. In fact, I’d say walk in about 30 minutes late for the prime experience. If you see Kurt Russell shaking a clipboard at John Malkovich, you’ve timed it just right.
3.5 out of 5 stars