Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: Deepwater Horizon – Mark Wahlberg anchors spectacular thriller

Based on the true story of Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster, Deepwater Horizon starts with a lot of confusing technical jargon, but soon picks up the pace with spectacular action and great acting

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 September, 2016, 5:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 2:28pm

3/5 stars

In 2010, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico became one of the worst ecological disasters of all time. It’s impossible to forget the news footage, as the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig killed 11 people and leaked a staggering 210 million tonnes of crude into the ocean. A film of two halves, Peter Berg’s film documents events leading up to this.

With the cast all playing real-life characters involved in the disaster, some archetypes are etched out. Mark Wahlberg is Mike Williams, the quietly observational engineer married to Kate Hudson’s stay-at-home spouse.

Mark Wahlberg on making worst ever US oil spill into Hollywood blockbuster

John Malkovich is Donald Vidrine, the BP brass – complete with curious Cajun accent – whose arrogance and belief in the integrity of the rig’s set-up leads to the almighty blow-out. Then there’s Kurt Russell, on fine form as Mr Jimmy, the well-liked old-school crew chief who is convinced that there are problems.

The first segment is, frankly, baffling for anyone without an engineering degree, as characters board the rig, talk in barely comprehensible jargon and squabble over safety procedures. After rather frustrating beginnings, Berg’s action instincts take hold and Deepwater Horizon truly delivers.

The explosion of the rig is brilliantly – and lucidly – handled. Not only are the visual effects spectacular (which they are), Berg truly captures the mounting horror of being engulfed in a disaster like that, both literally, as the flames lick, and metaphorically as the sinking realisation of what they’ve done sets in.

Wahlberg, who previously worked with Berg on 2013’s Lone Survivor , is marvellous. True, there’s a heroic Hollywood moment that neither he nor his director can resist, as he helps Gina Rodriguez’s worker make a leap to safety. But like the bird covered in oil we briefly see flapping around, it’s his reaction in the aftermath that hints at the seismic quality of this disaster. His character, for once, may not save the day – but he sure saves the film.

Deepwater Horizon opens on September 29

Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook