Deep Water Horizon
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Deep Water Horizon

Peter Berg’s rugged version of the worst environmental disaster in American history is very effective. So why did I feel so guilty enjoying it?

Yes, there is a real sense of integrity here, but there is also a definite lean toward traditional entertainment. The set up brings us the sweet and cozy marriage of our central character, Mike Williams, whose pretty young wife and daughter are left behind when he departs for the oil rig on his regular three week gig. As Mike helicopters out over the Gulf, we also get to meet his weathered tough boss, Mr. Jimmy, the hot rodding Andrea, a handful of BP executives who we just feel in our bones are corporate bad boys. Even though there are scenes setting up the fact that BP wanted to push the rig beyond its safe capacity, the stuff doesn’t really hit the fan until handsome young Hollywood, a nice kid everybody likes, says he’s going to the bathroom. We know he’s headed for more than that.

It’s not that fine actors like Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell and Gina Rodriquez don’t inject their real life characters with respect. They do. So, too, in a weird way, does John Malcovich, who plays (and I do mean play) corporate evil incarnate Vidrine as if he is channeling his inner James Carville. He’s kind of a blast to watch. Oops. Bad choice of words.

Because this is a movie that’s really about that blast. Impressively filmed, we watch in aghast as the leaking oil bursts into flame, the structure igniting, injuring many, taking the lives of 11 men. Yes, these effects are very well done. But it feels unseemly to be entertained watching them, a kind of equation into disaster porn that feels, in this real-life case, very wrong.

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