The name of the offshore oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, will echo through history, after the catastrophic failure of the pipeline beneath it on 20th April, 2010 led to the largest ever accidental spill of crude oil into Earth’s marine ecosphere.
Six years on, director Peter Berg brings a late summer Hollywood blockbuster to the screen, aiming to spotlight Deepwater Horizon’s ground zero: the industrial accident that triggered the environmental one and claimed the lives of eleven men in an explosive firestorm on board. The question demanding constant attention, as it did with previous efforts to translate recent real-world tragedies into big-budget popcorn fodder (such as United 93 and World Trade Centre); is it not perhaps too soon?
Real people, such as electrical engineer Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), are here rendered with such broad strokes of long-established disaster film pastiche as to leave a residue of exploitation. In particular, the way rig boss Don Vildrine (portrayed in enthusiastically Machiavellian-style by John Malkovich, with a thick Cajun accent) comes to solely embody the villainy both of his paymasters at BP and the general capitalistic greed for profit-over-personnel, is a narrative device that sits uncomfortably.
There is, undeniably, much to like here, too. Spectacular (and spectacularly expensive) visual effects communicate the awesome scale of this terminally isolated towering inferno in bombastic fashion, and before that, the tension is skilfully ratcheted taught through focus on knowingly dry jargon-filled technical explanation of the engineering principles about to go awry.
When the blue touch paper does get lit, however, there’s little about the barnstorming, flame-jumping, blinded-companion-leading rollercoaster of a narrative to differentiate it from its wholly-fictional counterparts, or to tie it to specific factual events in the Gulf of Mexico that day.
A by-the-numbers action adventure built on morally dubious foundations, Deepwater Horizon makes for a loud and energetic, but ultimately forgettable, cinematic experience.
Deepwater Horizon is released nationwide on 30th September 2016.
Watch the trailer for Deepwater Horizon here: