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Deepwater Horizon review: a methodical & thrilling retelling of the BP disaster

Aleesha Matharu | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:36 IST

For seven years, the Deepwater Horizon Macondo oil well drilling platform, owned by Transocean Ltd, functioned without a hitch all thanks the veteran workers on board. It even won safety awards year after year.

But on 20 April 2010, the rig exploded after a callous calculation made by oil conglomerate BP, which had leased the rig, killing 11 people. The disaster has been recorded as the largest oil spill in history.

But that was only the beginning of the tragedy.

Over the next few days, and years, over 4 billions barrels worth of oil continued to leak out. Each year, there are reports of widespread erosion of shores and loss of wetlands along the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers in Louisiana recently discovered traces of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the feathers of birds eaten by land animals.

Other major ecological repercussion will continue to be revealed over time.

Director Peter Berg, who brought us Lone Survivor, Battleship (which left a lot to be desired) and Hancock, surprisingly does well with the subject matter in Deepwater Horizon. He does everything he can to prove BP's corporate greed and lays the blame squarely at the company's feet for valuing profits over the potential loss of human life and extreme environmental damage.

But that indictment never gets jingoistic. The movie may have had an agenda, but BP is never demonised the way most movies with similar subject matter tend to do.

Instead, there's a methodical focus on what exactly went wrong on that fateful day. So even though you don't understand nearly half of what's said in the movie because it's so technical, the focus always remains on the malfunctions that occurred on the rig thanks to erroneous calculations.

The movie, based on a New York Times story, revolves around Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and engineer who becomes a hero after putting everyone else' safety before his own when disaster strikes. There's also Mr Jimmy (Kurt Russell), the crew captain of the rig who's careful in every way but is constantly bulldozed by BP representative Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich, who is to Deepwater Horizon what J Bruce Ismay was to the Titanic) because the rig is already 43 days behind schedule.

It may be full of disaster movie cliches, but the editing makes it hyper real even as tendrils of fire zoom out in every direction, engulfing everything in its path.

It's meticulous editing, similar to the way Sully, Clint Eastwood's latest, played out. When the disaster finally comes, it comes hard and fast, escalating from an onslaught of oil to a tumultuous explosion and the CGI for the rest of the movie is top notch as the rig explodes into thousands of pieces.

Wahlberg plays the saviour and hero, which obviously comes naturally after years of being cast in action movies. Kate Hudson plays his wife Felicia, who's left frantic with worry as she tried to piece together any information she can find about the fate of the rig and her husband. Jane the Virgin's Gina Rodriguez convincingly plays technician Andrea Fleytas, another soul saved by Wahlberg's quick thinking.

But it's Russell, who has been out of the scene for a few years, is the standout as Mr Jimmy, who despite repeatedly banging his head against BP is aware of just how south the whole thing could go. Which it does.

The movie ends with a tribute to the 11 crew members lost in the blast, but most importantly underlines how big business can make cost-cutting decisions that sometimes have catastrophic results.

The verdict

"You can't stick your hand in a hole and hope for the best. Hope isn't a tactic," says Wahlberg's character early in the movie.

It's true. Cutting corners doesn't work, something most multinationals would do well to remember. In all its thrilling moments, Deepwater Horizon never loses sight of that fact.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5

First published: 9 December 2016, 7:45 IST
Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

Born in Bihar, raised in Delhi and schooled in Dehradun, Aleesha writes on a range of subjects and worked at The Indian Express before joining Catch as a sub-editor. When not at work you can find her glued to the TV, trying to clear a backlog of shows, or reading her Kindle. Raised on a diet of rock 'n' roll, she's hit occasionally by wanderlust. After an eight-year stint at Welham Girls' School, Delhi University turned out to be an exercise in youthful rebellion before she finally trudged her way to J-school and got the best all-round student award. Now she takes each day as it comes, but isn't an eternal optimist.