"Deepwater Horizon" is a no-holds-barred look at the deepwater drilling rig explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It makes no attempt to help BP save face for this disaster as it directly blames them for the cutting of corners that resulted in the loss of life and pollution of the Gulf. In the tradition of disaster films, "Deepwater Horizon" is one long series of visual effects but wow, it certainly is a stunning series of shots. I had written it off as another action film without much substance but its visuals are reason enough to give it a shot. I was initially surprised to see its Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects alongside films like “Rogue One” and “The Jungle Book,” but now there is no question in my mind that it deserves to be there. I don’t think that it will win but hopefully this acknowledgement will encourage movie lovers to rent it and experience the stunning recreation of the rig and vividly realistic fire. None of it looks like CGI and will have you wondering if they actually recreated this explosion. It has a better chance of winning the Best Sound Editing Oscar as its sound effects are reminiscent of the loud, unique sound designs that typically take this category. Beyond the technical effects, the story is substantial. The script cleverly creates an understanding of the oil drilling process through diagrams and explanations that are woven into the framework of the story. We develop a bond with the main character, gain a basic comprehension of the jobs that are being performed on the rig, and have our emotions engaged as we watch a hero emerge amidst the chaos. The film is well-cast with Mark Wahlberg playing his “everyday man” role to easily gain our empathy, John Malkovich as the selfish BP company man, and a nearly indistinguishable Kurt Russell as the intense supervisor who stands up to the man. Kate Hudson wasn’t utilized that well as Wahlberg’s wife but I was really struck by Trace Adkins’ cameo as a grieving father. In less than two minutes of screen time, he managed to tap into some deep emotions and keep the families of the victims on our minds. My main criticism of this film is that its ending feels very abrupt. The bulk of the disaster sequence happens pretty quickly (which is fine as it keeps in line with the speed with which the situation developed) but it seems like they missed the potential to explore the court case or effects on the families of the victims. Or maybe I’m just thinking about “Sully” and imagining how this story could have fit into that format. Regardless, “Deepwater Horizon” is an interesting biopic disaster film that is most notable for its visual effects but also delivers a story filled with substance.
Here is a great article on the challenges of recreating the rig as a practical set and finding a balance between real and computer effects: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-ca-mn-0904-sneaks-deepwater-horizon-20160808-snap-story.html
[Pictured: The team effort of the set builders and visual effects artists resulted in a stunning depiction of this extinct oil rig]