I caught Peter Berg‘s Deepwater Horizon (Lionsgate/Summit, 9.30) a few hours ago. It’s not subtle but not too difficult to sit through, and at least it’s over in 107 minutes. It’s an FX-driven fireball thing, mostly predictable in terms of story beats and cloying emotion. Call it a blend of Godzilla, Backdraft and The Towering Inferno. And based, of course, on a true story many of us know backwards and forwards — the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion. Yes, just the explosion and how all those oil-rig workers in red jumpsuits managed to escape the resulting inferno, and then a little postscript info over the closing credits.
The film isn’t interested in the massive oil spill and the environmental catastrophe that followed. Sorry, that’s for your earth-friendly lefties. Deepwater Horizon is a megaplex movie for pizza-eating Americans.
The reason Berg has directed this film and not J.C. Chandor (who was canned off the project in early ’15) is because the Lionsgate/Summit guys wanted it kept simple and popcorny. Who cares about that boring ecological stuff? All the popcorn-munchers and Coke-slurpers want are those oil-rig inferno effects (crash-bam-BOOM!) plus a few hero-saves-the-day moves by Mark Wahlberg as real-life survivor and truth-teller Mike Williams…right? And that’s what this is — one of those event films that leave your head and become vapor 90 seconds after you leave the theatre.
But like many Hollywood films about complex subjects, Deepwater Horizon requires two immersions — one, the watching of the film and two, researching the facts online. Because the film is mainly for the grunts (morons, lazybrains, teenagers, under-educated 20 somethings, viewers from the People’s Republic of China) who want their boilerplate elements — explosions, fireballs, mud, grease, good-guy workers, asinine BP execs, guys screaming and groaning, etc.
The first 50 minutes of set-up are reasonably intriguing and well-ordered (except for some cloying footage of Wahlberg and sexy-wifey Kate Hudson and their cute little daughter…losing this boilerplate family shit would improve the film by a factor of at least 5% if not 10%), but once the explosions start and the chaos begins it all quickly unravels in terms of comprehending any specifics. All you know for sure is that (a) the rig has become an eyeball-melting fireball and (b) it’s a good idea to get off it, guys, even if it means jumping into the flaming sea.
I don’t know what Chandor had in mind, but I’ll bet it was somewhat smarter and more politically complex than what Berg has delivered, which is basically another tribute-to-the-working-class-meatheads action flick in the general vein of Berg’s Lone Survivor and (I’m guessing) Patriot’s Day, which will open on 12.21.
In Berg’s realm there are few things more flat-out glorious than non-corporate, somewhat under-educated Average Joes who hold down demanding skilled-labor jobs with families back home and yaddah yaddah. He totally worships these guys, but at the same time he doesn’t go all in. Wahlberg put on some weight so as to resemble Williams more closely, but Berg understands that a certain measure of Hollywood fantasy is always necessary, and so Hudson — Kate Hudson! — was cast as Williams’ wife Felicia.
The only laugh-out-loud moment in the whole film comes at the finale when we’re shown a photo of the real-life couple, and yup…Felicia should have been played by Adele during her not-yet-svelte period.
Deepwater Horizon doesn’t really follow a classic Towering Inferno structure, which is what most cheeseball disaster films do.
At first you’re presuming Wahlberg has the Paul Newman or Steve McQueen role — the good guy with an actual life, who knows a lot, who’s not only involved in the early detection of the disaster but who does something decisive or extra-heroic that either saves the day or puts the fire out or whatever. But hold on: Wahlberg’s Williams does almost nothing McQueenish or Newmanish in the entire film.
When the explosion happens at the 55-minute mark he’s sitting in his cabin like a tourist…waiting, wondering, quizzical. Then he gets knocked out. Then he runs around and shouts and says “we have to be smart about this but fuck, this is bad!” He saves a fellow worker who’s panicking but that’s about it. Then he plunges into the oil-soaked sea and makes it to a nearby Coast Guard ship. Big deal.
Kurt Russell plays Jimmy “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell, the rig’s top manager by way of Joe Patroni, the can-do engineer played by George Kennedy in those Airport disaster fllicks of the ’70s. But what is Russell doing when the first explosion happens? He’s in the fucking shower, naked as a jaybird, and then he’s all cut up and staggering around with one eye closed, and all he does for the remaining 45 or 50 minutes is say “we can’t save the rig but we can at least save ourselves so let’s get the fuck outta here.”
George Kennedy is looking down from heaven and shaking his head and saying, “Wow, Kurt…you had the can-do-hero role and they fucked you. They didn’t even let you die heroically. I’m sorry, man, but I can’t help you because I’m playing a harp and watching old movies in heaven. Hey, I was pretty good in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot!”
I haven’t paid the slightest attention to Dylan O’Brien thus far because he’s been in nothing but shit (MTV’s Teen Wolf, the Maze Runner franchise). Here he’s playing a grunt named Caleb Holloway, and in so doing has a couple of stand-out moments but what mainly registers is that he’s good looking.