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FILM REVIEW: Deepwater Horizon (2016)

The Verse’s Oliver Pendlington reviews Deepwater Horizon, a film based on the tragedy surrounding the worst oil spillage disaster in US history, starring Mark Wahlberg

Director: Peter Berg
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien and Kate Hudson
Plot: April 20th, 2010. US oil rig Deepwater Horizon suffers a massive explosion during a drilling operation. The crew on board must survive and escape from the destruction which will take 11 lives and ultimately cause the worst oil spillage disaster in US history.

Six years ago, the world was made aware of a terrible oil spillage off the Gulf of Mexico – at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. While the aftermath remains shocking to this day, it seems a shame and rather degrading to forget about the people who were trapped on the ill-fated oil rig and the heroism among its workers. Deepwater Horizon (the movie, released this month) aims to remind us of this heroism in a gripping and character-driven titular thriller which recaptures the horror and trauma of this real-life disaster.

While it is certainly tempting to jump straight into the action, director Peter Berg instead goes for the more effective route of taking time to build up the film’s characters and setting. The first half of Deepwater Horizon in particular gives the atmosphere of already-certain dread and isolation thanks to Enrique Chediak’s cinematography, which perfectly depicts the oil rig as being a tiny island against the vast endless ocean as a helicopter carries the oil rig workers over. It is here where we also get an early shocking scene when a bird gets caught in the helicopter’s blades, a brutality reminding us of the dangers we present to nature with our actions. Steve Jablonsky’s haunting score compliments the scene, which feels eerily calm compared to what our emotions may be going through.

As for the characters, they are for the most part well drawn out and consistently sympathetic, which is helped by some great casting. Mark Wahlberg makes main protagonist Mike Williams a compassionate and loyal hero, but the stand-out here is Kurt Russell as supervisor Jimmy Harrell. Continuing his triumphant renaissance that began with The Hateful Eight, Russell captures Harrell’s uncertainty and protection over the rig’s operation and safety that allows us to share his fear that something will go wrong. Admittedly, the same amount of character development cannot be said for John Malkovich’s callous executive officer, who largely comes across as a clichéd greedy boss who only cares about the money he will earn. This is a character trope that has been used far too much in many disaster movies and feels a let-down compared to how well-rounded everyone else is.

When the explosion of the oil rig eventually comes, there is the risk that it will take away the film’s tense grip with vast mindless destruction. The visuals used throughout are certainly spectacular, but thankfully the human drama maintains a powerful feel because we have become so well-invested in the characters, we do not want any of them to perish. Even for those who knew who eventually did, the tension is so nail-biting it makes it easy to believe that nobody will escape alive. It is this that makes Deepwater Horizon work both as a moving character piece and a haunting thriller that acts as a heart-breaking reminder for us to never forget one of this century’s most horrible disasters.

Rating: 4/5

Deepwater is showing at Cineworld Brighton until Monday 24th October. Go here for more.

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