Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: Deepwater Horizon

Welcome to Cinema Fallpocalypse 2016! What's that, you ask? Well, it's that magical time of year when the studios flood the cineplexes with all the leftovers they were afraid to release during the all important Summer and Xmas movie seasons. There is nothing out there right now. Nothing, I say! At least nothing I'm interested in seeing. 

Every cineplex in the country is packed with non-Pixar CGI cartoons, lame PG-13 horror films and overwrought, melodramatic Oscar-bait. It's a wonderful time to be a movie fan.

I had zero interest in this film, but it was either see it or sit on the edge of my bed and stare at the floor for two hours. I took one for the team here, guys, so I hope you enjoy the review.

Deepwater Horizon was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, and was directed by Peter Berg.

Carnahan wrote The Kingdom and Lions For Lambs, and co-wrote both State Of Play and World War Z. Sand's only previous credit is co-writer of Ninja Assassin (!!!).

Berg previously directed Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, Hancock, Battleship and Lone Survivor

Berg seems to be doing his level best to morph into Michael Bay, as his films are becoming increasingly jingoistic and maudlin, filled with protracted shots of the American flag waving proudly over the action.

The screenplay is based on the book Deepwater Horizon's Final Hours by David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul. It depicts the real-life events of the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, which cost the lives of eleven men and dumped millions upon millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf Of Mexico over eighty seven days.

Amazingly this is Mark Wahlberg's sixth film that's based on a true story. He previously starred in The Perfect Storm, Invincible, Pain & Gain, The Fighter and the aforementioned Lone Survivor.

SPOILERS FOR A MOVIE BASED ON A TRUE STORY!

The Plot:
Mike Williams (played by Mark Wahlberg) enjoys a leisurely breakfast with his wife Felicia (played by Kate Husdon) and his daughter Sydney. Mike works on an oil rig, and Sydney's giving a school report on his occupation. She runs through her report for him (complete with props), acting as a cheap expository device to explain to the audience how oil platforms work.

Meanwhile, Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez of Jane The Virgin) leaves for work, but her car won't start. Her boyfriend gives her a ride on his motorcycle.

Mike and Andrea arrive at the BP (British Petroleum) base and are flown out forty miles or so to the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon. Along for the ride is their boss, Jimmy Harrell, aka "Mr. Jimmy (played by Kurt Russell). 

As they arrive at the oil rig, Mr. Jimmy is puzzled as to why the previous crew is leaving without performing a "cement log," whatever that is.

Mr. Jimmy meets with the BP bosses, including Donald Vidrine (played by John Malcovich, doing an outrageous Cajun accent). Mr. Jimmy wants to do a "negative pressure test" (technobabble!), but Vidrine and the others don't think it's necessary, due to the time and cost involved. He finally convinces them.

The crew performs the pressure test, with inconclusive results (that's bad, right?). A second test generates more promising results (er... good, I guess?). Vidrine says there's nothing to worry about, and pronounces the well as safe. Suddenly the pressure rises and a huge burst of methane gas fills the drill pipe. The pipe ruptures, the methane is ignited, causing a massive explosion that engulfs the entire oil rig (definitely bad). 

Mike is Skyping with Felicia when the explosion hits. He's knocked backward and buried under rubble. Mr. Jimmy is injured as well. Mike digs himself out and rescues Mr. Jimmy. A nearby supply ship begins sending lifeboats to the rig. Mike helps get as many workers as possible onto the boats, including Vidrine, who realizes the disaster is all his fault.

Andrea calls the Coast Guard, who send help that may not arrive in time.

Mike and Andrea are the last two on board the oil rig. They're forced to jump some ten stories into the water below to escape the inferno. Fortunately they're picked up by the Coast Guard, which arrived in time after all. 

Back on shore, Mike is temporarily housed in a hotel. He's hounded by reporters and retreats to his room, where the reality of the disaster finally gets to him and he breaks down. Later he's reunited with his family, as well as Mr. Jimmy, who's on crutches.

We're then treated to a "Where Are They Now?" montage. Mike Williams currently lives in Texas and has left the oil industry. Mr. Jimmy works for Transocean, whatever that is. Andrea left the oil industry as well. Vidrine was indicted on manslaughter charges, that not surprisingly were settled out of court. There's then a very maudlin, flag-waving tribute to the eleven men who lost their lives in the disaster.

Thoughts: 

• The film opens with actual audio of Mike William's testimony before a board of inquiry, after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. So from the very first second, we all know our main character is going to survive. So much for suspense! Well done, Peter Berg! Why not just show the end of the movie first while you're at it?

Suspense is a tricky thing to pull off in a film; even more so when you're making a film based on a real life event. We know the goddamned oil rig is going to blow up, but why tell us who's going to survive before it does?

This is why I'm not a fan of biopics or movies based on true events. There can't be any suspense or surprises in such films, since viewers even somewhat familiar with the subject matter already know how the story ends. 

The only way to make an historical film engaging is to tell it in a new and exciting way. Berg fails miserably in this respect. This is most definitely a "connect the dots" movie. It plods along like Frankenstein's monster, as it lurches from one event to the next in the most... predictable manner possible.

It's probably ridiculous to complain that an historical movie is too predictable. But a competent director could have minimized that predictability, giving the impression that the characters might be able to prevent the disaster if only they did this, or if they'd just do that. Berg is apparently not that director.

• I'm VERY surprised that BP is mentioned by name in the film. It doesn't exactly paint them in a positive light, as the disaster proved to be the company's fault.

However, the oil company was also co-owned by Transocean and Halliburton (yes, that Halliburton) and they somehow managed to keep their names out of it. Maybe Halliburton threatened to send some of their cyborg soldiers after the producers if they mentioned them in the film?

• The Deepwater Horizon oil rig seen in the movie is an 85% scale recreation of the real thing, and was one of the largest sets ever constructed for a film. That's actually pretty impressive! And then it was all blowed up real good at the end of the film. Movies sure are an odd business.

• Supposedly Mark Wahlberg insisted on staying in character during the entire shoot. Wha...? He was playing an actual character here? Seemed to me like he was playing the same standard, bland lug he does in every film he's ever been in.

And speaking of acting— as we hear in the deposition recordings, the real Mike Williams has a very thick Texas drawl. Apparently Wahlberg couldn't convincingly replicate it or more likely didn't feel like trying, because he speaks in his normal voice throughout the entire film.

• The movie features a very simplistic "Us Against Them" theme. The blue collar workers are all selfless, noble heroes, risking their lives so we can drive our cars to work every day. The company bosses however, are all greedy, evil villains, interested only in profit and schedules.

Yes, the disaster ultimately was BP's fault, but EVERYONE who works there can't be an asshole. Just like every man on the Deepwater Horizon wasn't a saint. 

For example: The real life Donald Vidrine wasn't quite the villain the movie makes him out to be. He wasn't the one who tried to blow off safety concerns by coming up with the "bladder effect" theory, and it was actually Vidrine's superiors who ordered the crew to hurry and complete the well, which was forty three days behind schedule. The movie needed a bad guy though, so Vidrine drew the short straw.

Separating the characters into these black and white columns turns the film into a cartoon rather than a serious drama.

• Irony Alert! Just before the explosion, the BP executives presented Mr. Jimmy with a safety award, to celebrate seven years without a lost-time accident; Believe it or not, this wasn't poor writing, but actually happened!

• Do you like watching movies filled with impenetrable technobabble? Then brother, you'll love Deepwater HorizonTerms and technical jargon are tossed around incessantly, with little or no explanation. Characters spend a good part of the runtime wringing their hands as they stare at incomprehensible dials and readouts. We get the sense that something bad's happening, but just what it might be is never adequately explained. It's honestly like trying to watch a Japanese movie without subtitles.

• The film has a very poor sense of space. Whenever we see a long shot of the oil rig, the entire structure is engulfed in flames. Yet for many minutes after the explosion, Mike Williams searches for survivors and helps them to safety in oddly flame-free rooms. 

Where exactly these untouched rooms were located, I have no idea.


• Like most films these days, Deepwater Horizon features "character posters," singly spotlighting the various actors in the film.

I've never seen any of these character posters out in the wild. Few cineplexes have the space to display four or sometimes ten posters for a single film. And does anyone collect them? I guess so, since studios keep pumping them out. You'd have to be a very, very rabid fan of Deepwater Horizon though to want all four of these things on your living room wall.

• I have a feeling that the Coast Guard officers we saw were all real, and not actors. Their "performances" all had that flat, awkward tone of someone trying to "act like themselves."

• The lost of eleven lives in the Deepwater Horizon disaster was tragic, but it pales in comparison with the Piper Alpha accident.

Piper Alpha was a North Sea oil platform, operated by Occidental Petroleum. It exploded in 1988, killing a whopping 167 people. Only 61 survived. It remains the worst offshore oil disaster in terms of lives lost.

So why does Deepwater Horizon warrant a movie, but not Piper Alpha? Simple! Deepwater Horizon was about the loss of wholesome, healthy Mom and apple pie American lives. The majority of men who lost their lives on Piper Alpha were Scottish. 'Muricans don't wanna see no movie about a buncha kilt-wearin' drunks dyin'!

• Oddly enough, there's little or no mention of the massive oil spill that resulted after the Deepwater Horizon accident. Oil pumped into the Gulf Of Mexico for 87 days, at the rate of 798,000 gallons per day. It's estimated that 210 MILLION gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf. There's one very small acknowledgement of this ecological disaster in the film, and then it's never mentioned again. 

I suppose it's not a surprise, as the movie's obviously about the human cost of the accident. But a bit more about the oil spill would have been nice.

Deepwater Horizon is the latest in director Peter Berg's increasingly jingoistic, rah-rah "America's The Greatest" opuses. It's overly simplistic in its "good vs bad" depiction of the actual people involved with the disaster, yet impenetrable in its overuse of industry jargon and technobabble. Because it's based on a true story, it unfolds in a plodding and overly predictable manner, generating little in the way of suspense. I give it a C+.

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