The “based on a true story” disaster movie is one of the hoariest of Hollywood genres – and one that tends to induce a sense of dread in this reviewer. However, if ever a disaster deserved a movie, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe would surely spring most immediately to mind. The eponymous exploratory oil rig, which blew out in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, caused one of the worst environmental disasters in history – an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil escaped before the leak was plugged 87 days after the blowout, wreaking untold havoc on local marine environments and wildlife.
So Deepwater Horizon was no ordinary disaster, and the film based on it tries hard to rise above the run of the disaster-movie mill. For a start, it stars everyone’s favourite Hollywood everyman Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg, who recently elevated himself to the top of my personal list of favourite thesps by coming out as a Tottenham Hotspur fan. But the film’s most strikingly credible aspect is that it refuses to pull its punches as far as BP, which ran the Deepwater Horizon rig, is concerned. John Malkovich plays the most senior BP executive on the rig in unmistakable baddie mode. With, it must be said, a curious drawl that suggests he’s the first ever middle-aged white man to emerge fully-formed from “da hood”.
The action begins with Wahlberg at the end of shore-leave with his daughter and wife (Kate Hudson, comprehensively underused). Choppering into the rig with an extravagantly moustachioed Kurt Russell, playing rig-boss Mister Jimmy (and channelling John Wayne as a sort of heroic floating cowboy), the pair discover a state of disarray: with the drilling behind schedule, Malkovich’s character and his BP cohorts have been riding roughshod over safety procedures.
The early part of Deepwater Horizon does a good job of evoking the camaraderie between a tight-knit group of workers thrust together for long periods: the dialogue is snappy and convincing. And it does an even better job of describing the events leading up to the blowout without requiring its audience to possess a degree in sedimentary geology or lapsing into clumsy exposition.
Then disaster strikes, and it morphs into a bog-standard, albeit impressively constructed, disaster movie, full of explosions galore, heroics from the survivors and the like. Which is thoroughly entertaining, but if you’re of the opinion that the real story of Deepwater Horizon was the environmental havoc unleashed after the rig blew out, is also somewhat disappointing. The end credits do provide some shocking facts about the aftermath, but that hardly offers much satisfaction.
Perhaps Deepwater Horizon is set up to become one of the first based-on-a true-story disaster movies to spawn a sequel? That’s something to watch out for if it proves to be a big hit. As it stands though, it’s a nicely observed, meticulously crafted disaster movie which is well acted and scripted. But if you were looking for something a bit less middle-of-the-road than a straight-down-the-line disaster movie, you’ll have to continue your quest.