Deepwater Horizon's heartfelt tribute to victims of oil rig disaster

Frenetic camera work adds to the sense of chaos in Peter Berg's fast-paced action movie Deepwater Horizon, based on the true story of the Gulf of Mexico BP oil rig disaster of 2010, writes Damon Smith

Mark Wahlberg in a scene from Deepwater Horizon

ON APRIL 20 2010 an explosion on the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, located in the Gulf of Mexico, resulted in the deaths of 11 platform workers. When the structure eventually sank, oil continued to gush from the sea floor for almost three months.

Pivotal moments from this harrowing real-life disaster are recreated with testosterone-fuelled swagger by director Peter Berg in the action-packed thriller Deepwater Horizon.

Based on a newspaper article about the platform's final heart-stopping hours, the film reunites Berg with leading man Mark Wahlberg after their successful collaboration on wartime drama Lone Survivor.

The sense of dread that pervades early scenes – the calm before the digitally enhanced storm – is palpable. Scriptwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand hastily sketch characters so we have emotional ties to several rig workers before the initial devastating blast.

Wahlberg looks stoic in the face of certain death, flexing his muscles as an action-packed second half demonstrates Berg's brio behind the camera.

Co-star Kurt Russell has excellent form with on-screen pyrotechnics – he valiantly battled the raging inferno of Backdraft back in 1991 – and forges a pleasing onscreen partnership here.

Engineer Mike Williams (Wahlberg) kisses his beautiful wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) goodbye before he boards a helicopter to the BP-owned and operated drilling platform Deepwater Horizon located approximately 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

Other passengers include installation manager Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and third mate Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez).

"This is the well from hell, girl," a co-worker tells Andrea, half joking.

Once they land, Jimmy becomes concerned that BP officials, including well site leader Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich), have not carried out sufficient checks to ensure the drill is operating safely.

Jimmy orders a test, which brings back concerning yet inconclusive results and reluctantly he gives the go ahead to continue drilling. Crew members including Jason Anderson (Ethan Suplee) and Caleb Holloway (Dylan O'Brien) attempt to make up for lost time, but a massive blowout tears through the 121-metre long rig.

Survivors of the initial blast race against time to lower lifeboats into the water before flames engulf the entire structure.

Deepwater Horizon captures the chaos of that fateful day, and the courage of men and women who risked their lives to save friends and co-workers from the rig's twisted metal.

During some of the big set pieces, it's hard to discern one figure from another in the smoke and flames, and frenetic camerawork could induce motion sickness especially in the IMAX format.

The surprisingly brisk running time doesn't allow for huge amounts of character development before the special effects department takes over, but our heartstrings are certainly plucked when key characters die in the inferno.

A heartfelt tribute to the lost crew over the end credits brings the film to a sombre close.

DEEPWATER HORIZON (12A, 108 mins) Thriller/Action/Romance. Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O'Brien, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee. Director: Peter Berg

Rating: 6/10


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