Peter Berg makes movies, but he also knows a lot about deep-water oil exploration. He'd have to, considering how complicated this dangerous activity is, and how well he handled those complexities and portrayed that danger in his film. Berg directed "Deepwater Horizon" (PG-13, 1:47), the dramatization of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion which killed 11 people and resulted in the largest oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry and the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history. A combination of faulty equipment and human error caused the disaster. Methane gas escaping up the rig's pipes enveloped it, ignited and eventually consumed the rig, which burned until sinking into the ocean 36 hours after the initial explosion. The titular rig's owner, Transocean, and its client, BP, traded accusations of wrongdoing for years, while various cases worked their way through the courts and a lengthy environmental clean-up of the gulf coast proceeded. No one went to jail, but, according to Wikipedia, "To date BP's cost for the clean-up, environmental and economic damages and penalties has reached $54bn." But that's all scientific and industrial detail. This film is mainly a story about people. Berg (with his screenwriters, Matthew Michael Carnahan and Michael Sand) personalizes the story by focusing on a few key people involved in the events depicted. Master electrician Mike Williams (played by Mark Wahlberg, who Berg also directed in 2013's "Lone Survivor") is a devoted family man with a loving wife (Kate Hudson) and a sweet and precocious daughter (Stella Allen), who's very proud of her dad and his job. Radio operator Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) is a young, single woman who has a steady boyfriend and loves her vintage Ford Mustang, even if she does have trouble keeping it running. Both Mike and Andrea work for "Mr. Jimmy" (Kurt Russell, appearing on film for the first time with Hudson, who is his adopted daughter) is the caring, but tough and diligent Transocean foreman on Deepwater Horizon, who often finds himself at odds with BP's corporate representatives on the oil rig. As Mr. Jimmy and his crew arrive at the rig for their three-week-long turn on board, it's apparent that the departing shift (including Berg, in a cameo role, in which he briefly talks with Russell's character) hasn't done their due diligence in taking care of operation and safety concerns on the rig. While entertaining two BP executives who are visiting Deepwater Horizon (and who present him with a safety award during a brief ceremony), Mr. Jimmy locks horns with BP liaison Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich). Mr. Jimmy insists on a test of the pressure entering the well from beneath the ocean floor. When the test gives conflicting results and the results of an alternate follow-up test complicates the situation further, the stage is set for disaster. The rest of the film depicts that disaster with astonishing detail and realism as everyone on that rig fights for survival and for the goal of getting back safely to their families. "Deepwater Horizon" is a fascinating, entertaining and inspiring take on a real-life disaster. We get good character development and a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the considerations, disagreements and actions that led up to the catastrophic explosion, but there are a couple problems with all that. Berg does a good job with a combination of dialog, on-screen verbiage and impressive visuals to help us understand the dynamics at play, but it almost seems like too much, and the conversations, with a lot of technical jargon, characters talking over each other and seeming to mumble their lines, and some with various southern accents and some without, combine to make it difficult to tune one's ear to the dialog and understand everything that's being said. However, the main point of this movie is the survival story. Berg had a realistic version of the rig built (including many working components) for shooting. His attention to detail in the set and in the film's visual effects is nothing short of remarkable. What's more, we care about the characters and the danger they're in feels real. For excellent acting, a well-developed story and incredible visuals, you should put this film on your horizon. "B+"
In April 2010, there is no oil exploration operation in the Gulf of Mexico to compare with the Deepwater Horizon oil rig with its size or sheer depth of its drilling. However, the project for the BP oil company is beset with technical difficulties to the point where the general operational supervisor, Jimmy Harrell, and his Chief Electrical Engineer, Mike Williams, are concerned potentially dangerous trouble is brewing. Unfortunately, visiting BP executives, frustrated by the project's long delays, order curtailed site inspections and slanted system tests to make up for lost time even as Harrell, Williams and his team helplessly protest for the sake of proper safety. On April 20, the workers' fears are realized in the worst possible way when the rig's various structural and system flaws spark a catastrophic cascade of failures that would create a massive blowout and explosion that threatens them all, even as it also begins the worst environmental disaster in US history.