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article imageReview: ‘Deepwater Horizon’ puts audiences at the centre of the disaster Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 30, 2016 in Entertainment
‘Deepwater Horizon’ is a remarkably intense depiction of a wide-reaching disaster that focuses on the people at its epicentre.
There’s frequently more than one side to any story, but that doesn’t mean they’re only conflicting accounts of the same events. In a major incident, there can exist the perspectives of the participants, the observers and then the aftermath. It’s often the latter that gets the most attention or people remember best, but that doesn’t make the other narratives less important; in fact, they can provide a greater understanding of the consequences that eventually moved into focus. In the case of Deepwater Horizon, most people are aware of the biggest oil spill in U.S. history but less familiar with the events that led to the disaster.
In April 2010, BP is trying to setup an oil drill off the coast of Texas, but the project is more than a month behind schedule and the higher ups are becoming anxious… and reckless. Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) leads a team of experts that should have the last word when it comes to the drill’s integrity and the safety of the crew, but BP executives on board the Deepwater Horizon rig believe they know better — in their frugal wisdom, they even dismissed the test crew before they could complete all the required diagnostics. Of course cutting corners has rarely resulted in sounder infrastructure and this instance is no different. Not following protocols and bullying subordinates into complacency leads to the total destruction of the rig, the loss of several lives and an oil disaster that impacted the local environment for years.
Director Peter Berg knows a thing or two about telling a gripping story that combines a compelling narrative and big explosions. He even worked with Mark Wahlberg on his last feature, which was also based on a true story. The added challenge of engaging audiences in this movie is everyone already knows what’s going to happen, so Berg had to find a way to create character connections as well as accurately (?) recreate the terrifying destruction of the rig. The former is accomplished by concentrating viewers’ attention on specific players: Jimmy, drilling engineer Mike Williams (Wahlberg) and his wife (Kate Hudson), flotation specialist Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), drill operators Jason Anderson (Ethan Suplee) and Caleb Holloway (Dylan O'Brien), and BP exec Mr. Vidrine (John Malkovich). The catastrophe is then shown through the perspectives of these characters, keeping viewers at the centre of the danger as the external rescue efforts prove inadequate. As the damage rises to irreparable proportions, the only thing that matters is saving as many lives as possible.
Berg effectively puts audiences on the Deepwater Horizon as it is torn apart by the pressure of the breach and set ablaze as oil spews from the unsecured hole. He frequently uses an underwater camera to illustrate the stress on the drill and the failure of various safeguard mechanisms. These images unite to generate tangible tension that radiates from the screen and fills the theatre. Audiences sit on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what else could possibly go wrong in this increasingly horrible situation.
The film also had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Check out the rest of our TIFF 2016 coverage.
Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell and John Malkovich
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