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Film review: Deepwater Horizon

Film & TV

Retelling the true survival story of 115 workers after an oil drilling disaster may sound like the recipe for an uplifting cinematic experience, but Deepwater Horizon is not a feel-good film.

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On April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico, haste to meet economic targets resulted in an oil pipeline explosion that destroyed a rig and killed 11 men. The film dramatisation is about human nature, adversity, courage, resilience and the impact that “chasing the mighty dollar” can have.

After ignoring an inconvenient safety truth, the big bad BP boys have been sent by British Petroleum to try to cut the company’s losses. With 10 per cent of machinery needing repair, they’ve done a risk assessment of their own, and after 43 days it is time to start pumping oil.

The corporate entity is clearly the baddie here, with key antagonist Donald Vidrine, the rig supervisor, portrayed as a slimy Scrooge by the adaptable John Malkovich. He is the fall guy, the human face of the single worst environmental event of its kind. Not that the devastating impact on the environment is featured beyond one oil-drenched sea bird who collapses dramatically in defeat; this is a film about people, plain and simple.

The “help you hired to drill a hole” is led by Mr “Jimmy” (Kurt Russell), who cares deeply about the safety of his workers and is a battler beyond belief. Blue collars everywhere will warm to this man, willing him to survive against the odds.

Mark Wahlberg presents engineer Mark Williams as a genuine family man, at ease with his 21 days at sea each roster. He epitomises what most of us want to be: humorous, loving, brave and determined, all of which is adeptly portrayed through the use of close-ups and precise delivery. Kate Hudson plays his loving wife, all eyes and devotion and painfully helpless when things go wrong.

From a relationships point of view, this is a naturalist film with a star-studded cast; an action-swelling docudrama with no surprises in store.

As a narrative, we know the outcome, and the tension-building omens are strategically placed in the film, with easily recognisable symbols of the chaos and destruction that is to follow. Peter Berg’s direction has a sense of the mechanical to it … and I don’t mean the 85 per cent replica set that buckles so brilliantly.

This being said, as the pressure builds, our own anxieties grow. Cinematographer Enrique Chediak brings chaos to the screen with hand-held camera perspectives accompanied by special effects. Sound is unsettling and with the use of the new Dolby Atmos, the audience is enveloped in the moment and carried with the evacuees through their perilous journey.

Deepwater Horizon is a timely reminder of the impact humans can have on others and our world. BP has had another oil spill this week and is also seeking to use the Great Australian Bight as an exploration site. Just how much we learn from our mistakes is a very relevant theme, and one worth exploring on the big screen if you need reminding.

The new GU film house on Hindley Street, part of the West End rejuvenation, hosted a special screening of Deepwater Horizon for its “grand opening” this week.

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