Deepwater Horizon – Review (*** 1/2)

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Mark Wahlberg makes for a compelling everyman running the gauntlet in Peter Perg’s surprisingly restrained, rigorous, and tasteful document of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, the catastrophic BP oil spill of 2010.

For a lot of people, it’ s going to seem simply too soon and too crass to make a $150 million blockbuster starring Mark Wahlberg based on such an event, but the good news is that Deepwater Horizon mostly sidesteps the pat, treacly tentpole treatment you might be expecting. Sure, there are the occasional, perfunctory family asides as the struggle of Wahlberg’s protagonist – an oil rig technician named Mike Williams – is cross-cut with concerned glimpses from his wife (Kate Hudson), but the slow-motion American flags are kept to a surprising minimum (I counted just two), and Berg largely trains his focus on the human survival element above all else to jarringly visceral effect.

Before the “action” kicks off, though, we’re immersed in the day-to-day minutiae of operating and working on an oil platform, as various tests are carried out and administrative squabbles smoothed out, largely at the behest of BP well site leader Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich). He might be the film’s proxy to a mustache-twirling villain, but the pic stops far short of heavy-handed lecturing and sticks mostly with the bracingly effective carnage.

Wahlberg is such a statuesque, recognisable figure these days that he might seem hard to believe as a man of the people, but he’s an effortlessly snug fit here, even if his average Joe may feel a little like “Mark Wahlberg playing Mark Wahlberg” for want of a better phrase. The pic’s easy MVP, however, is Kurt Russell as rig manager Jimmy Harrell, further proving his late-career resurgence in the big-budget blockbuster game while bringing a no-bullshit charm to the forefront.

Berg, who is best known for outrageous action flicks like Hancock and Battleship (though did solid work with 2013’s Wahlberg-starring war pic Lone Survivor), does a commendable job balancing the sheer destructive awe of the disaster with a certain detached tastefulness. He rarely relishes death or injury except when to heighten the visceral impact of the incident and cement the fragility of these men at the mercy of the metal and flames.

The tone is an earnest survival pic for the most part with occasionally angry cries of, “Can you believe this happened!?” More than anything, it pays a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives, with a simple-yet-moving end-credits memorial that’s sure to wet more than a few eyes.

A sturdy disaster flick that wears its budget on the screen and makes good on a supremely talented cast, Deepwater Horizon is a testament to Peter Berg’s directorial brio with the right script, and certainly his best film to date.

*** 1/2

Deepwater Horizon is in UK cinemas tomorrow and US cinemas this Friday

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