Oil and water

“Jeez, we could have taken that job on the Exxon Valdez.”

“Jeez, we could have taken that job on the Exxon Valdez.”

Director: Peter Berg

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson

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 the viewer into a situation where fire and explosions are so realistic, you can feel the heat and disorientation of the 2010 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 actually 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 conduct all-important tests were leaving upon Williams and Harrell’s 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 backwards 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 and mud explodes upwards, 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 mud oozing from a pipe is terrifying. When the stages of the disaster go into high gear, it’s as scary as any horror film to hit screens this year, and there have been some pretty good horror films in 2016. The staging of explosions and fire in this one, many done upon an oil rig built exclusively for this film, are award-caliber.

There’s 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 the mayhem that escalates until the final two survivors jump many stories to the ocean below.

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. Good people perished in this disaster, and the movie makes sure to pay solid tribute to all of them, including a nice epilogue featuring real footage and photos of the victims.

Kate Hudson plays Williams’ wife, who’s 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 that off 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 similar to those put out by Irwin Allen in the ’70s is both a compliment—hey, some of those where pretty great, including The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno—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.

Berg and Wahlberg, who had a prior collaboration on the very good Lone Survivor, aren’t done in 2016. Somehow, they worked it into their schedules to deliver Patriots Day, a film about the Boston Marathon bombing, on Dec. 21 in limited release, before an expanded release in January 2017. These guys are busy with their true-life epics.