Monday, 6 February 2017

Deepwater Horizon

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, Kate Hudson, and John Malkovich

Director: Peter Berg

107 minutes (12) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Lions Gate blu-ray region B

Rating: 8/10
Review by Steven Hampton  

This disaster movie is based on a true story from 2010 about an oil-rig fire, regarded as the worst environmental tragedy in American history. Actor turned director Peter Berg has a chequered career behind the camera that really started with the stag-night comedy of ensemble farce Very Bad Things (1998). He followed that cult success with the more populist and under-valued action thriller The Kingdom (2007), which firmly established Berg as a name to watch. Superhero parody Hancock (2008), was a feature all but ruined by the typically dismal Will Smith’s gurning efforts, and sci-fi adventure Battleship (2012) proved a bit too derivative of Transformers, Independence Day, and War Of The Worlds to avoid pigeonholing as brainless popcorn entertainment. Happily though, the gritty war story Lone Survivor (2013) salvaged Berg’s reputation as a director capable of balancing serious action with heartfelt drama.       

Continuing his partnership with star Mark Wahlberg as the producer, Berg gathers a top notch cast of seasoned veterans including Kurt Russell and John Malkovich for key roles in this biopic. Deepwater Horizon manages to pull together a vaguely documentarian style, packed with the sort of technological detailing previously seen in movies like The China Syndrome (1979), and a grittily realistic sense of heroism reminiscent of cinematic landmarks highly critical of corporate malfeasance such as The Towering Inferno (1974). Despite its raft of obvious genre touchstones - lifeboat queues during the fire-storm are bound to recall Titanic (1997), this is an impressive Hollywood production with a solidly engaging build-up of suspense before the awesome pyrotechnical effects of an industrial accident where “hope is not a tactic” for survival.

Early in this movie’s terrible day at work, there’s the minor shock of a bird strike on the big helicopter that flies a shift of replacement crew out to the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig, and this blatant bad omen is unsubtly echoed by the intrusion of another avian doom-bringer when a pelican crashes through a window into the drilling platform’s support ship. These two admittedly curious but not particularly strange incidents are forgivable as film-making elements of narrative foreshadowing and cultural symbolism. They both fit perfectly into an evocative action drama about mankind’s hubris when faced with geological forces that prove fatal when underestimated. The movie’s sudden descent into a metaphorical hell of shouting and panic is superbly orchestrated, as the rig’s crew are trapped in nightmarish mayhem lit only by fire. The crisis could have done without its praying scene, but that’s a peculiarly American affectation which, perhaps unintentionally, indicates that many of the social problems in the USA are rooted in the big wishes of traditional beliefs not the wisdom of modern practical rationality.

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