The 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by BP in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and produced an unrivaled ecological disaster.
The new film from Peter Berg (“Lone Survivor”) about the tragedy is not an agenda-driven environmental piece or a paean to the Gulf communities badly harmed by the spill.
But then you knew that already.
Berg has built a prolific filmmaking career out of making big action spectacles (and, yes, the “Friday Night Lights” movie and show), and in “Deepwater Horizon” he envisions the events on the rig as a classic survival story, with a band of brave men and one woman scrambling to save themselves and their colleagues as their world crumbles around them.
The pyrotechnics are undeniably impressive, relentless full-scale devastation depicted so uncompromisingly that every last detail of the blowout feels like it’s happening to you in the comfort of your multiplex chair. Fireballs careen into the air, a giant crane swings dangerously, ceilings and hallways cave in, dangerous quotients of mud and methane gas blast forth. The characters are thrown about, beaten horribly and clearly facing an uphill struggle to make it through the night.
That’s maybe not the most interesting or meaningful way to depict what happened here and what it means, but sure does make for an engaging stunt show.
In establishing the environment and central figures such as Mark Wahlberg’s electrician Mike Williams, Kurt Russell’s rig manager Jimmy Harrell and Gina Rodriguez’s crew member Andrea, before the explosion, Berg offers a fast-paced journey across the rig, from the command rooms to the mess hall and crew quarters.
It’s the usual, rote “meet the players” tactic that movies in this vein incorporate to provide you with just the right touch of character details so that the coming destruction resonates as more than an effects reel.
But just when you think you’ve seen it all before, in comes John Malkovich as a snarling Cajun BP executive, spouting lines like, “Dat a catfish,” and “No mud, no flow, we got to go,” and reminding us all that there are few pleasures in moviegoing greater than Malkovich overacting for the rest of us.