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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 24, 2016

Deepwater Horizon Movie Review: Fails To Make The Viewer Care More For Its Thinly Developed Characters

ON APRIL 20, 2010, the worst offshore oil rig disaster happened 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the subject of the movie “Deepwater Horizon”, which shows a by-the-numbers account of the events that led to the largest environmental disaster in history that caused the death of 11 crew members.

The movie is told mainly from the point of view of the Transocean chief electronics technician, Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg). He’s first shown at home with his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) just as he’s about to leave for his three-week stay on the oil rig. Their daughter Sydney (Stella Allen) shows them what she did in a school report, using a can of soda, to demonstrate what her father does at work.

What happens to the can is a perfect foreshadowing of what exactly will happen in the oil rig later. We then meet two other important characters. First is Dynamic Positioning Officer Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez of “Jane the Virgin”) who’s shown repairing her own car when it won’t start. Then there’s Installation Manager and crew leader Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) who asks a British Petroleum (BP) executive to take off his magenta tie since it’s the color of their highest alert.

Jimmy gets mad when he learned that BP manager Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich, who’d appear to be the villain in the film), let go of the crew who’s already there to do safety tests for a fee of $100,000,
without the test being performed. Jimmy then insisted on having a pressure test done and this reveals alarming results that might put the oil rig in danger. But Vidrine dismisses it, saying there’s not mud pushed up by the pressure.

Mike warns that the rig is in a precarious situation and soon the drill crew sees explosions of oil, gas and mud. By then, Jimmy is already taking a shower while Mike is talking with Felicia on skype when something explodes and they’re cut off. The disaster gets worse and the ship moored closely to the oil rig detect the dangerous happenings and warns the Coast Guard. Soon, everyone is trying to get into lifeboats to save their lives. Jimmy is badly injured but continues to help in saving his crew members. Mike does his best to find the missing Andrea.

Directed by Peter Berg (who also directed Mark Wahlberg in “Lone Survivor”, an acclaimed 2013 film about a mission to kill a Taliban leader that went wrong) does solid work in presenting the film as a procedural of what really happened on the oil rig. You may not exactly understand what’s going on but they try their best to explain how the rig works. In effect, the British Petroleum Corporation people just want to get the drilling going so they can start making money while the crew is more concerned about safety. Greed gets the better of the BP people and that’s when disaster strikes, and it’s beautifully staged with the help of fiery and awesome special effects on the big screen that make you feel that you’re actually there on that fateful hellish day.

Honestly, though, it fails in making the viewer to care more and be more emotionally involved in its thinly developed human characters who could have made this a victorious story of survival. John Malkovich is very good and effective as the villainous Donald Vidrine who talks with a Cajun accent, but we wish that there’s also an effort to make deeper connection with the other characters so they’ll come out more sympathetic to create more thrill and tension in us viewers.

The recent movie, “Sully”, shows this can be done. We already know what happened and how it ends, but it still succeeded in creating a lot of tension for us viewers. On the other hand, “Deepwater Horizon” makes us feel more like we’re just watching a documentary that re-enacts the increasingly perilous incidents and circumstances that lead to the tragical catastrophe. Imagine, 11 people perished in this and yet they were given matter-of-fact roles that could have been more emotionally engrossing if the script were better written. In the end credits, the photos of these people are shown, along with the other real life characters, and we really wish we could have felt more empathy for all of them.