Deepwater Horizon – Review (Toronto International Film Festival)

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Big, noisy Hollywood disaster films have a tendency to drone on with CGI heavy montages of destruction, inaudible dialogue and a narrative we’ve seen a hundred times before. Even more so if you already know the outcome of the story. However, it’s possible for a film to hit a nerve with a harrowing display of terror, bravery and an important message. Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon manages to do just that, unearthing the devastating events of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and remind us of BP’s massive negligence that resulted in the largest environmental disaster in United States history.

Mark Wahlberg — who’s right at home in a part like this — stars as electrical technician Mike Williams. He arrives on the Deepwater Horizon with chief Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell, playing his role with the grace and valiance you’d expect from the legendary actor, who’s been on many a burning vessels) just as the big oil officials are getting ready to start operations. Harrell and Williams both warn the BP execs that the rig is in poor condition, which could lead to complications. Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich), a villainous BP rig supervisor with an equally disconcerting Southern drawl, dismisses Harrell’s pleas to suspend drilling until they can test the rig’s integrity.

it disturbs us like a disaster drama should, so you feel as if you’re a helpless, petrified spectator while these everyday folks desperately navigate a tower of unimaginable fear.

Berg doesn’t waste time with backstory or subplot, he sprinkles the early scenes with working-class humour and big rig jargon, but the real story begins as the concrete collapses and the fire begins to rage. After a failed series of pressure tests results in catastrophe, the unease turns into an ultimate test of survival. This feeling never levels out, but tightens a choke hold as the flames buildup and debris zips around the screen. The visual effects are spectacular, never appearing phony or exaggerated. Deepwater Horizon’s reel of carnage is deafening, it disturbs us like a disaster drama should, so you feel as if you’re a helpless, petrified spectator while these everyday folks desperately navigate a tower of unimaginable fear.

Berg’s tribute to the 11 men who lost their lives on the Deepwater is a necessary picture. It borders on the formulaic and obviously wants to please a general audience, yet defies its pre-planned casket of being just another tedious, loud Hollywood mess. Pleasing like a blockbuster event, but also pointing its confident finger at murderous greed, the greed that still poisons our planet.

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This is proud, riveting filmmaking that finds its place above the mediocre; a frenzied ride through the depths of hell and the brave ones who find themselves there.

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