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Front Page - Friday, October 7, 2016

10 reasons to see ‘Deepwater Horizon’

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad

Here’s a quick and dirty list of 10 reasons why you should see “Deepwater Horizon,” a biographical disaster film depicting the blowout and explosion on the oil rig of the same name in 2010. The incident killed 11 crew members and set off the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The movie is, hands down, the best reason you have for lifting your bum off your couch and making your way to the nearest theater. Here’s why:

The action: My jaw dropped several times while I was watching “Deepwater Horizon,” which has some of the most intense disaster scenes I’ve seen. The movie is also relentless. Once the rig blows, the film becomes a harrowing ride to the end. It depicts a tragic event. But as a film, its sheer popcorn value is off the charts.

n The director: Instead of offering the kind of glossy-but-detached imagery one might see in a Michael Bay film, director Peter Berg placed his camera, and moviegoers, in the middle of the explosion, in which pipes burst,  bolts the size of golf balls blew off fittings, thick mud spewed everywhere and men scrambled to survive. While Berg’s decision forced him to sacrifice the kind of spectacular imagery viewers expect from a Hollywood disaster movie, he wound up making something more valuable: a truly immersive film that clings to its central characters. I was wowed by the action, even as I understood what was at risk.

n The sound effects: I saw the film in an IMAX theater, which offered top-notch audio equipment. The film takes full advantage of the technology. From the threatening rumble of pressure building in the guts of the rig, to the metallic pow of valve handles blowing off their fittings, to the roar of the inferno, the audio not only sounds great, it complements the imagery by placing the viewer in the midst of a volatile and dangerous situation. I’m not exaggerating when I say I ducked a time or two to avoid a bolt after it pinged off a pipe.

The editing: The film’s visual and audio elements are stitched together into a seamless cinematic experience. There are some fast cuts when the rig first blows, but I never felt lost or taken out of the moment. Rather, the perfect marriage of film footage and audio effects, cut into tiny but powerful slices, enhanced the impact of this scene. With all disbelief suspended, I felt I was experiencing the disaster the rig firsthand.

The cinematography: Okay, Berg does indulge in some Bay-esque imagery as the film opens and helicopters take the crew across the Gulf of Mexico to Deepwater Horizon. Initially, the rig looks likes a tiny erector set constructed in the middle of a vast panorama of water, but as the choppers draw close, it looms like a massive, metallic monster in the frame. I half expected it to unfold like a Transformer and begin firing at the workers before they landed. Seeing these images on an IMAX screen was a pleasure.

n The human factor: While “Deepwater Horizon” offers plenty of visceral thrills, it never leaves the sides of its characters. The movie opens with crew member Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) waking up at home in bed, next to a loving wife. From there, it follows Williams into the kitchen, where he has breakfast with an adoring adolescent daughter. From the beginning, Berg makes it known that this event was a disaster because of its human (and environmental) cost.

The emotional payoff: There were 126 workers on board Deepwater Horizon. Sadly, 11 were never found. But that also means 115 made it off alive. Berg handles the ending perfectly by bringing the film full circle to an intimate and emotional place. I thought it was brilliant.

Mark Wahlberg: Before seeing the movie, I had a discussion with a friend about how silly I thought it was when I first heard that the rapper Marky Mark was going to act in movies. I couldn’t see Wahlberg as a film star. Now I can’t see him as anything else. There might be better actors out there, but Wahlberg is a natural in front of the camera, and he has the kind of charisma that draws viewers to a character. This was critical to the success of “Deepwater Horizon,” which focuses largely on the Williams’ heroics and effort to survive. Wahlberg nailed the role, and the film is better for it.

Kurt Russell: I’ve always felt like Russell is the man. Over the years, other action stars have gotten better billing and bigger paychecks, but I’ve always enjoyed Russell and his pics just as much as the rest. And after seeing “Deepwater Horizon,” all I can say is, Russell is still the man.

Respect: “Deepwater Horizon” pays appropriate tribute to the men who lost their lives in the disaster. In an effective coda that follows the emotional scene I mentioned earlier, we see them smiling in photos, unaware of what lies ahead. BP Oil paid dearly out of its pocket for its part in the disaster, but it didn’t pay anything close to price the widows and family members of the workers are still paying to this day.

“Deepwater Horizon” is an action picture, not an Oscar-worthy drama focused on why the explosion happened and the behind-the-scenes company dynamics involved, but that doesn’t mean it should be any less regarded than a more serious film. Rather, the intelligent and skillful work that went into making it are commendable – and the best reason you have for moving your bum off your couch and making your way to the nearest theater.