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By Chaz Lipp

The Lowdown: Though it follows typical disaster movie form, Deepwater never loses sight of the tragedy of the lives lost.

Director Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon effectively pays tribute to the 11 individuals who lost their lives when the Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) exploded in 2010. Though most of the movie essentially functions as an effects-driven disaster film, Berg features the victims’ names and photographs just before the end credits. It was the right thing to do—a much-needed reminder that the tragedy we’ve just seen, now matter how “exciting,” did in fact happen.

deepwater-horizon-john-malkovichThe tone is foreboding early on as we see Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) bidding his wife (Kate Hudson) and young daughter (Stella Allen) farewell before reporting for duty aboard the Deepwater Horizon. Once there, he and supervisor “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell) spar with BP bigwigs, including Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich), over the reliability of the rig’s fail-safe systems. It all plays out like typical bureaucrat-versus-safety-advocate scenarios we’ve seen before, except this stuff is based on fact.

The foreshadowing (including Mike’s daughter’s grade-school-science-project demonstration of an oil gusher using a can of Coke) may feel heavy-handed at times, but this isn’t San Andreas or The Day After Tomorrow. These are real people being depicted, some of whom are very near the end of their lives when we meet them.

Some may carp at the use of real-life tragedy for popcorn entertainment, but it works here based on the tone of Berg’s presentation. This isn’t a Fast and the Furious-style action flick and it’s likely most viewers will keep that in mind. Berg aims to take us inside the catastrophe, giving us some sense of what the 126-member crew experienced.

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Once the ever-escalating breakdown of the Deepwater Horizon begins, the intensity never lets up. There isn’t much narrative—the opening act sketches out the rig’s issues, the rest of the movie shows us the consequences. And there’s no attempt at addressing the ecological impact of the 210 million gallon oil spill that resulted from the MODU’s failure. But that’s beyond the scope of Deepwater Horizon, which delivers a sobering variation on the usual disaster movie formula.

Lionsgate’s Blu-ray included over two hours of featurettes that offer a deeper look at the facts of the disaster as well as the making of the film (the raw effects-sequence footage featured in “Deepwater Surveillance” are of particular interest).

Deepwater Horizon images: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Chaz Lipp

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