Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Deepwater Horizon review

A disaster movie based on the 2010 oil spill? Sounds intriguing.... With director Peter Berg attached (come on, he's made a few good films), I decided to see what all the fuss was about! Hit the jump to read my review.

The Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 was one that captured the world. The biggest oil spill in US history, combined with awe-inspiring images of industrial destruction, became pictures etched into our collective conscience. Unlike other events that shook the world: air strikes, bombings, and 9/11; this disaster was one which displayed mankind at it's most destructive to nature. We could see the scale of the damage that we could cause with just one teeny weeny platform in the middle of a limitless ocean. Yet, we know enough about all this already; instead, with Deeopwater Horizon, Peter Berg decides to focus on the human tragedy of that day. And not only that, he has the balls to indict those responsible: BP.

A bit of a cock-up...
From the exposition of the picture, the sight of BP branded salmon shirts and magenta ties (I know, bleugh) took me aback. Never before, I think, have I seen a picture that was so bold in its accusations and damnation. For BP have already been held responsible for their actions. but Berg's film could cause a PR disaster in the company. It's a big budget movie, driven by a big actor (Mark Wahlberg). It has that patriotic feel of Lone Survivor to it; and it is precisely calculated to appeal to American audiences. Yet the destruction and pain it portrays (more on that later) with a pointed finger directly at Malkovitch's sneering executive, and therefore BP as a whole, will likely sway cinemagoing audiences in anger against them. I'd actually be less surprised if BP sponsored the film and it turned out to be 'hey it wasn't our fault it was an accident' the movie. But no, what we have here is almost a protest film - which is remarkable in itself.

Anyways, Wahlberg stars as Mark Williams, an engineer working on the Horizon. After a blessedly short but still overly sentimental section involving his wife and daughter (doing a science project/ talk which accidentally and cleverly explains what went wrong on the rig when a coke can explodes), he's flown out to the at-sea platform with grizzled boss Kurt Russell, and two slimy BP types. Also on the helicopter we meet Gina Rodriguez, another engineer and strong major character. Instantly, upon landing on the helipad, it's made perfectly clear that something is wrong. Through dramatic irony the audience learns that the  pipe is fit to burst, and it becomes obvious that some simple tests would reveal this to be the case. This first/second act is filled with technical language and terminology that the bulk of the audience will probably not (read: will not) understand, but miraculously Berg means to pull off an air of melodrama and suspense whilst not treating his core demographic as idiots. Naturally, the BP executives have no more time or money to run the tests, so instead force the workers to start pumping the oil, despite repeated warnings from everyone 'in-the-know' on board.

Russell in a strong performance.
From here on in it's a suspense-filled ride: a shot of a pipe fit to burst, a broken fixture, a slight oil leakage. The audience has the added advantage of knowing that, eventually, there will be a huge disaster; but the majority of the crew don't really suspect it...

When the explosions do come, they come thick and fast. Considering this is a 12a/pg-13 effort, the action is pretty brutal. Characters are crushed under rubble, violently thrown against walls and pipes which crack their heads, and in one particularly brutal sequence, a naked man is nigh-on eviscerated with rubble whilst having a shower. Yet Berg's camera does that annoying goddamn shakycam thing that just isn't necessary. After setting up a realistic looking rig, and taking us around it, the industrial scale destruction renders it all looking the same, and the incessant shudder in the frame tended to give me more of a headache than instill tension or conjure awe. Shots of Wahlberg walking through deserted corridors, rescuing survivors, and unhooking an engineers trapped bone from under a metal beam (ouch) are far more effective, along with the scenes of death. it is here that BP is hugely demonised for the incident, as we watch 11 crew members brutally and unnecessarily lose their lives.

Calm before the storm
And then, that's kinda it I suppose. I wasn't really sure what to expect from Deepwater Horizon, but I was thinking there would be some sort of discussion about the ecological damage. No, Berg sticks to his ground, and focuses solely on the human aspects. In the end, this probably works to his advantage, as he's able to helm a tightly wound, highly focused action docudrama that doesn't have too much on its plate.

Wahlberg puts in a fantastic performance: full of confidence and bravado, but also ultimately a humility and vulnerability that aids the flourishing tension and really helps the audience root for his character. Conversely, its also true that we know Mark Williams survived before we even set foot into the screening, which diminishes the level of surprise in many ways. There's little Berg could have done to alleviate this. Malkovitch and Russell each put in very strong supporting roles as opposites. Compared to Wahlberg, in many ways, these screen legends are far more respected for their prowess than the modern actor, and their gravitas shows. Williams respects Russel's character; who has an air of authority and fatherly love. It's simply the heft that Russell brings to the silver screen. Malkovitch, on the other hand, commands the authority of a multinational company; exuding the perfect kind of power required for this role. And then we are left with Gina Rodriguez, who plays an exceptionally strong female character. Although, at points (not wishing to give one of the few 'spoilers' away), she can become a little useless/helpless - leaving the men to persuade or force her to do things. Of course, there are exceptions to this scene: such as when she has an argument with one of Malkovitch's cronies. Back at home, Kate Hudson plays the stereotypical anxious wife, crying in front of the TV. But then again, who wouldn't in that situation? Not a very interesting character, but a somewhat accurate one.

US presidential election 2016.
The shots themselves are clean, and the aerial pics of the Horizon are stunning, but apart from that it's a little bland. Berg likes to do the Hollywood blue/orange thing, with those two colours being the primary influence on the cinematography. During the day, the rig shots are realistic, but with a sheen common of an IMAX explosionfest. And when the flames start shooting out of the rig, the lighting turns very stereotypical. In short: it's competent and sufficient, but don't go expecting any flourishes or individuality.

One final slight complaint. After all that effort to distance the film from sentimentality and make a true human story of survival, why oh why does the epilogue need to be stretched to around 5 minutes with a crappy country track playing in the background? This kind of weepy schtick is cringe inducing; and whilst it may pacify the LCD American audience of patriots and 'God save our country/God bless out heroes' types, all it elicits in the UK is a sort of pained sigh...

In conclusion, Deepwater Horizon is a cut above most blockbusters. It takes a true story, and transforms it into a human tale of endeavor without unnecessary sentimental trappings. It's brutal, honest, and thought provoking; taking the unusual step of outright demonising a corporation - which is refreshing in this era of product placement in movies. And, of course, it features many memorable performances from some very strong actors and actresses. However, it's a little cheesy at points, and has a sense of blockbuster blandness that it doesn't quite manage to fully overcome. Highly recommended if you need some of dat IMAX in yo life.
Deepwater Horizon gets 4 stars!

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