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‘Deepwater Horizon’ Can’t Save a Blah September of Movies

By Rebecca Pahle | Film | September 30, 2016 |

By Rebecca Pahle | Film | September 30, 2016 |

I’ve been thinking about it, and I might not have been entirely accurate when I wrote in my review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, also out this weekend, that it’s the only movie this year with a skeleton fight. Because didn’t oil used to be dinosaur fossils, which in turn used to be dinosaur skeletons? So isn’t Deepwater Horizon, about an oil rig explosion, technically one big skeleton fight? These are the thoughts I have at 2 am when I’m trying to desperately to think of something interesting to say about a movie that’s good…but not great. It’s fine. It’s good and fine. It is good and fine and decent and completely, in all ways, an acceptable movie. That also, technically, has a skeleton fight.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams, the Chief Electronics Technician on the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, nicknamed the “Well from Hell” for the way everything on it is constantly breaking down. Still, Williams’ crew—led by Deepwater Horizon’s manager, “Mr. Jimmy” (Kurt Russell)—is barred by BP executives from running the proper tests before turning the rig on. They’re already 43 days behind, you see, and every additional day costs them more money. Even if you don’t remember from the news what happens from here, you can see it coming: There’s a build-up of pressure, an explosion, and soon everything’s on fire, leaving Deepwater Horizon’s hundred-plus crew members trapped on a gigantic burning boat of death.

Director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) has crafted a creditable addition to the disaster movie genre. All the expected elements are here: Wahlberg as the family man struggling to get back to his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter, Russell as the wise old-timer whom the brass refuses to listen to, Dylan O’Brien as the scrappy youngster and Jane the Virgin’s Gina Rodriguez as The Girl. (Leather jacket-wearing, muscle-car driving gearhead Gina Rodriguez, though: Yes.) And then there’s John Malkovich as Vidrine, BP’s top man on the rig and corporate stooge from hell. With a Southern accent dialed up to eleven and a speech pattern out of a demented children’s book (“No mud. No flow. We gots. To go.”), he’s nothing less than a pure, unadulterated gift from heaven here. I want to pluck him and Eva Green out of their respective good-not-great movies and let them gnaw on scenery together for two hours.

Though individual elements of Deepwater Horizon deliver, the movie as a whole never quite gelled for me, in part because it’s often quite impossible to figure out who is who, who’s going where, and what they’re doing and why. I know the disaster movie genre can benefit from a certain level of confusion, so that the audience experience can echo the characters’ in some small way, but Berg and screenwriters Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan take it overboard here. Are there parts of the drill that… aren’t on fire? How long does the explosion and subsequent crew evacuation actually take? Did I ever need this much oil drilling jargon, ever, in my life?

All that said, even if you can’t tell exactly what’s going on, Deepwater’s still engaging, with cinematographer Enrique Chediak in particular deserving kudos for the striking look of the rig as a fiery hellscape. It’s just not a movie I’m going to really remember having seen in five years. Watch if it you’re bored, or wait for Netflix. Other than that, didn’t Luke Cage go up?