Not a goofy blockbuster

A solidly thrilling retelling of historic oil disaster

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson and John Malkovich. Directed by Peter Berg. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

I think my shockingly lustrous eyelashes got singed watching Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg’s harrowing account of the worst oil rig disaster in American history.

That’s because Berg’s film drops you into a situation where fire and explosions are so realistic, you can feel the heat and disorientation of the 2010 BP oil disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 men and led to an oil spill eclipsing all other oil spills.

Mark Wahlberg is first rate as Mike Williams, a man who was on the rig at the time of the disaster. Kurt Russell equals his power as Jimmy Harrell, who questions the integrity of the rig, and then proceeds to have the worst shower in cinema history since Janet Leigh had a showdown with Anthony Perkins.

The setup is a doozy: Williams and Harrell head out for a three-week stay on the Deepwater Horizon along with a couple of BP stuffed shirts. Much to their amazement, some men who were supposed to be conducting all-important tests are leaving upon their arrival without conducting anything, so that gets Harrell all riled up. This is a good thing, because Russell doing “all riled up” is always fun.

The lack of testing leads to a showdown with a sleazy BP employee, played by a slithery John Malkovich. Some backward reasoning leads to the acceptance of some bad drill results, and Deepwater Horizon is cleared to start up. Unbeknownst to the higher ups and technicians, there’s a cataclysmic clog in the works, causing mud to explode upward, eventually followed by a massive gas leak, and you probably know the rest.

Berg puts his film together in a way where the mere sight of some mud oozing from a pipe is terrifying. When the disaster shifts into high gear, it’s as scary as any horror film to hit screens this year. The staging of explosions and fire in this one, many executed on an oil rig built exclusively for the film, are award-caliber. There’s also a true sense of isolation and disorientation when the action goes full throttle. Props to the editor for creating a sensation of being utterly lost in mayhem.

It’s not all about the fire and explosions, as Berg, his writers and performers all give the movie a true heroic element, one that results in heartbreak after the film plays out. Kate Hudson plays Williams’ wife, who is having a Skype conversation with him when everything starts to go south. Hudson has always been good for waterworks, and she gets an opportunity to show off that talent in this movie.

Other standouts include Ethan Suplee as one of the men in the ill-fated drill command center, Gina Rodriguez as an employee who must endure the incompetence of a co-worker, and Dylan O’Brien as a drill worker who couldn’t have been closer to the initial stages of the disaster.

To call this a disaster film in the same vein as Irwin Allen’s 1970s genre classics—The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno—is both a compliment (hey, some of those were pretty great) and a bit belittling. While this film follows a similar, schlocky blueprint at times, it has a little more substance and heart than those goofy blockbusters.