DEEP STAR HORIZON, the catastrophic 2010 event, took 11 lives and was a disaster of Biblical proportions upon the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico. The 2016 movie was a blowout of another kind, when, despite the best intentions, excellent work and good reviews it failed at the box-office; after the bills came due it lost at least $60,000,000. Too bad audiences missed out, because it’s an intelligent, gripping and spectacular true-story thriller.
“Hope is not a tactic”
The title vehicle, a giant semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling rig, is poking a hole in the seabed, 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf when faulty equipment is pushed into provoking a sudden blowout that ignites into an uncontrollable firestorm. Among the 126 people on the platform are electronics technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), installation manager “Mr.Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell), rig position operator Andrea Flaytas (Gina Rodriguez), and visiting BP manager Donald Vedrine (John Malcovich). Vedrine’s insistence on speed over caution butts heads with the concerned Williams and Harrell and helps force actions that end in cataclysm.
“I’d think you money-hungry sons of bitches would at least be good at math.”
Transocean, the world’s biggest offshore drilling contractor, British Petroleum, and Halliburton shared the blame for the arrogant greed, fickle recklessness and gross negligence that resulted in the tragedy. A careful and committed crew of film-makers shared the credit for telling the detail-laden story in a succinct and exciting fashion, 107 minutes that move by like 50.
The script by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Michael Sand finesses just the right amount of technical exposition against real-speak dialogue that shows a sound ear for character framing. Peter Berg directed: he can hit (Lone Survivor) or miss (Battleship), but he belts a good one here, keeping the action easy to follow (no jittery camera nonsense), letting the peril and professionalism come across without sloshing in star grandstanding or phony heroics. The cast fit their roles to a tee. After a brisk set-up, the action starts with a jolt and the adrenaline valve stays wide open with some of the most impressive, believably frightening pyrotechnics in recent years, helped by having the mayhem unleashed around sets constructed on a huge scale.
The size and detail of those sets (Berg maintained they were among the largest ever constructed) no doubt accounted for a goodly chunk of the budget, which roiled a variously estimated $110,000,000 to $156,000,000, just too much for a serious-subject-matter picture (about a downer) pointed to an adult audience. The picture made $121,800,000 worldwide, a lot of money, but worse than disappointing considering the expenditure. *
Justly, the tech folk received Oscar-nominations for their stupendous Visual Effects and Sound Editing. With Kate Hudson, Dylan O’Brien, Ethan Suplee, Brad Leland and, in a quick but intense cameo, Trace Adkins, who before he became a country singer was an oilfield worker.
* Shrewdly, the film-makers honed in on the relatable human end of the story; danger and movement, reaction and grief. The lethal liquid sequel to the inferno, a life-ending gusher for the precious Gulf, was tagged with a postscript “The blowout lasted for 87 days, spilling an estimated 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.” Some will no doubt feel they should have continued into the aftermath material, but then you’re talking about a 3-hour movie ending in litigation purgatory, something that would attract even fewer crowds and leave those who went even more depressed. You still wouldn’t please everyone.
Simply via its visual presentation the film delivers a “F–k the oil companies!” message without employing a toothless screed. Those monstrous and meticulous sets and the vividly realized conflagration are an inherent scold. Just seeing the colossal vehicle, an audacious man-made marvel of vast yet intricate ingenuity—basically The World’s Biggest Milkshake Straw—arrogantly poised over a spot and in a place that, if things went sideways, would bring grotesque and likely irreparable ruin to irreplaceable natural wonders and resources ought to have anyone with a heart and brain hope there really is a Hell: the raping swine who run Transocean, BP and Halliburton will roast in it. I’d pay to see that show.