TIFF 2016: Peter Berg helms a muscular disaster movie, featuring a well cast Mark Wahlberg
The Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 resulted in the deaths of 11 men and the largest oil spill in American history. Director Peter Berg's typically muscular drama touches on issues of corporate negligence and the reckless pursuit of profit, but it feels much more comfortable celebrating the extraordinary courage of ordinary individuals.
Berg pitches his film somewhere between a 1970s disaster movie (think The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno) and 1960s John Wayne vehicle Hellfighters. It follows a classic three-act structure. Initially, we are introduced to a group of characters heading to the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling unit – including chief electronics engineer and family man Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), grizzled installation manager Mr Jimmy (Kurt Russell, in what would have been the Wayne role) and deputy Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez).
Tension grows in the second act as it becomes apparent that the unit is behind schedule and over budget. An entertainingly hammy John Malkovich is the BP boss willing to disregard safety procedures if they can get back on target. Below the surface of the water, we witness the ticking time bomb that's about to explode.
In the third act, all hell breaks loose and this is when the film comes into its own with some very impressive work from the special effects team and cinematographer Enrique Chediak that pitches the viewer right into the heart of the flying glass shards, burning flames and crashing debris. Berg goes out of his way to minimise the use of CGI, giving the film a sense of old school reality that is very welcome. Wahlberg is also well cast as the rugged blue collar hero who refuses to falter in his darkest hour.
The end result may never dig too deep or address the bigger issues, but Deepwater Horizon is still a solid, often surprisingly restrained nailbiter of a disaster movie.
Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2016. General release from Fri 30 Sep.