Mark Wahlberg has been in some pretty hairy predicaments in his screen life, but blimey, this one takes the biscuit. Lantern-jawed Kurt Russell is also no stranger to danger, having coped with a hellish catastrophe similar to this one in 1991’s excellent Backdraft, so we know we are in safe hands when the oil rig on which the boys are working off the coast of Louisiana explodes into flame. To those tragics who look back with fondness on the pre-CGI golden era of disaster movies – The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974) etc – take heart, we have been delivered an old-school ripper.
Sticking to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ credo, director Peter Berg does not bother himself with needless narrative innovation. He introduces us in the first act to Mike (Wahlberg) and his sexy onshore wife-and-mom (Kate Hudson), then Mister Jimmy (Russell), the foreman, as all the blokes on the latest fly-in shift arrive for work on the Deepwater Horizon. There is a ton of testosterone and unintelligible dialogue, and we learn that the project is behind schedule. Meanwhile, bean-counting BP execs, one of whom is the loathsome John Malkovich, are putting the squeeze on to having drilling commence, regardless of safety precautions. The sad thing is that the story is based on fact, for the film is based on what happened in April 2010, when the lives of ten workers were lost and millions of gallons of crude were spewed into the Gulf of Mexico in what was an unprecedented environmental calamity. Without getting too high-tech, Berg also explains clearly, through underwater shots and concise sur-titles, exactly how these monstrous drilling vessels operate (they’re floating industrial estates) and what the mechanical malfunctions were that led to the blow-up.
Solid performances from all involved ensure that the human-interest factor is not overwhelmed by stupendous pyrotechnics, while a sobering postscript keeps it real. It’s not wildly extraordinary, but engrossing throughout and much better than you might have feared.