The first time Peter Berg grabbed my attention was through the Will Smith starrer Hancock which was a far cry from your traditional superhero films where the character is more or less respected by the general populace and is portrayed as someone who has made it his life’s purpose to fight the bad guys. Hancock, on the other hand, had the personality of a drunk homeless guy who bides his time by sleeping on public benches and is spat upon by everyday pedestrians. He has absolutely no intention to play hero or save the world despite having Superman like powers. The very wit of this idea of a good-for-nothing superhero put Berg right on my list.
Deepwater Horizon is based on a massive Oil Rig explosion and Oil Spill which occurred in the Gulf of Mexico six years ago, turning into one of the largest ecological disasters in recent history. The event is shown through the eyes of Crew Member Mike Williams who was one of the lucky survivors. Berg understands that we, the audience, know almost nothing about how Oil Rigs work. Some of us may have seen them standing like sentinels on the high seas, quietly staring into the sunset. Some of us even know that they are stations that dig out oil from underneath the ocean so that our fuel-hungry machines can guzzle them in. But the majority have almost no inkling of how these things work. The first half of the film is devoted to a glimpse into the life of Oil-Rig operators and crew members. Most of them ride out to the ports and are then flown out in helicopters to their designated Rigs. As an audience you feel that this is just like the Navy, shipping out into the vast expanse but there is a vital difference. Ships move from one location to another whereas Oil Rigs more often than not are stationed at one particular location. Some Rigs, like the Deepwater Horizon, are free-floaters which are used to dig for oil and secure the location until the actual oil-drilling team arrives. As a Crew member living on an unmoving Rig, far away from humanity, its unimaginable how they cope with the sense of stagnation in life.
This primer about the life of Oil-riggers is quite authentic, however, after an hour of the same you start asking yourself – “Where are they going with this ?” as if that monotony starts getting to you. The seemingly boring proceedings start to take a foreboding turn when Captain Jimmy Harrell finds out that the cementing crew had left early due to budget cuts by British Petroleum (BP) which had assigned the drilling to his team. Harrell is clearly distraught and tries to explain to the Business people from BP that without proper cementing, the rig would not be stable under the pressure of the Oil. The BP guys are not convinced and Harrell recommends a Negative Pressure test which if failed, would result in the scrapping of the whole operation until stabilized. As fate would have it, the Test is successful but little do they know that it is only temporary. The hole under the ocean had already started to leak large bubble of gas and the pressure was building. Gradually, the Pressure starts to rise dramatically as shown on their gauges. Valves start to burst at the seams and before they can do anything, things go out of hand. Pipes and meters start blowing off throughout the rig, with enormous sprays of mud and muck from underneath. Soon Oil, which exists right under that layer of earth, starts seeping out and catches fire.
The underpaced first half doesn’t prepare you in the least for the onslaught of the sudden, nerve-wracking disaster that unfolds on board the Deepwater Horizon. The moment is distinctively captured through frightening details as crew-members fight to evacuate the towering inferno. Mark Wahlberg, as Mike, turns saviour and helps his team to find their way out. As an Oil-rigger, his performance doesn’t have much scope to explore but he is convincing enough as a Technician who knows his job. Kurt Russell, as Captain Harrell, takes the cake as the more impactful personality as he gathers his wits despite being blinded by debris and helps his team contain the situation through sharp instructions. John Malkovich, as one of the BP Business people, gives a short yet effective portrayal of a snake-eyed haughty executive who couldn’t care less about how the ground crew works. He only talks about charts and profits.
Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon is an accurate portrayal of life of Oil Riggers and shows the unknown side of the perils they face every day at work. In the past years, Berg has directed a superhero film, a sci-fi (Battlefield), a military adventure and now a Real-life disaster. It’s interesting to see how he keeps hopping onto new genres and experimenting with new material. His next venture is going to be a biopic about the Boston Marathon Bombing and its definitely going to be on my watch list.
gobblpoint: Reminiscent of Ladder 49, this film takes a largely unknown story and showcases some of the most challenging real-life disasters in terms of film-making.
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