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Dull, Baby, Dull

Show up an hour late for Deepwater Horizon


Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Deepwater Horizon
Opens Friday 30

Considering director Peter Berg’s previous output, especially the disreputable Lone Survivor about a failed Navy SEAL operation in Afghanistan in 2007, I was half expecting Deepwater Horizon would be on British Petroleum’s side. The deification of American soldiers in Survivor rubbed me the wrong way and granted me the “best” hate-mail of my career (“you are just a bitch that would never make it in the military” warms my heart).

Thankfully, Deepwater Horizon sticks to the official story and slaps some solid action scenes to an otherwise standard disaster movie.

Berg’s go-to leading man, Mark Wahlberg, is Mike Williams, the second-in-command at the ill-fated oil platform. Because of greed-motivated BP directives, a number of security checks are bypassed, including an evaluation of the cement holding the pipeline in place. By the time the executives finally agree to a checkup, all hell has broken loose.

Even though Berg goes way over the top with the jargon, he does a good job explaining the events that led to the oil spill (the environmental catastrophe that ensued in the Gulf of Mexico is only mentioned in passing). In case you don’t know how oil extraction works, the director has jammed a fourth-grade level exposition into the plot. How could he possibly trust the audience’s intelligence?

As if some painfully obvious foreshadowing wasn’t enough, bad omens make their way into the film — an exercise in futility, since we all know how it went down.

An hour in, the parade of clichés finally gives way to the explosive denouement. The technically savvy Berg creates logistically complex scenarios involving fire and high-pressured water. The punches come fast and furious, enough to make you forget the pedestrian image of domesticity everybody is trying to go back to.

For all the didactic exposition and superb execution of the disaster, the characters are barely one-dimensional. Kate Hudson is in this movie solely to pace around the house looking worried and fabulous; Gina Rodríguez (Jane the Virgin) is into muscle cars and has no other distinguishing feature; John Malkovich is wasted as a money-obsessed, mustache-twirling villain.

The one actor who rises above the material is Kurt Russell. Likely more out of experience than Berg’s direction, Russell creates a multidimensional character unwilling to put his crew at risk in order to reach a deadline, but not oblivious to the needs of the company.

If nothing else, Deepwater Horizon serves as an indictment of British Petroleum disguised as popcorn fodder. The infamous oil company cut corners at every turn and its refusal to pay overtime was directly responsible for the accident. Furthermore, even though negligence could have been proven, nobody from BP has seen the inside of a jail cell since the accident. Eleven crew died in the blowout, but all manslaughter charges were dismissed.

In case you miss Berg’s trademark jingoism, an unnecessary shot of the American flag in the midst of the inferno satisfies any craving for patriotic reassurance.