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"Deepwater Horizon" is a nail-biting thriller

Sad Wahlberg is sad. See his movie and make him smile.

Sad Wahlberg is sad. See his movie and make him smile.

"Deepwater Horizon" should not be as good as it is. There's something inherently offensive about turning a true story in which 11 people lost their lives into an action thriller/disaster picture. That's akin to making a film about the Boston marathon bombing and shooting it like a film noir/detective thriller focused on the hunt for the bomber. It might make for a good movie, but something feels a little cynical.

Amazingly though, "Deepwater Horizon" almost completely works as a pulse-pounding action flick and as an indictment of BP as a company that was much more concerned with being behind schedule that they were about safety. The script doesn't politicize the drilling aspect of the story, but instead focuses on normal people doing heroic things, because America.

Deepwater Horizon was a semi-submersible Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit that was owned and operated by Transocean. They were drilling the Macando Prospect oil field for BP about 40 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast. On April 20, 2010, there was an explosion and a fire aboard Deepwater Horizon that killed 11, injured 17 and pumped 340,000 gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico per day.

The film stars Mark Wahlberg as Mike Williams, an electrical engineer aboard Deepwater Horizon who, along with Chief Jimmy "Mr. Jimmy" Harrell, thinks they might be on a bad well. Horizon is falling apart around them and they are several weeks behind schedule with drilling. John Malkovich plays Donald Vidrine, a BP suit more focused on the bottom line than the human lives aboard the ship. Vidrine's pressure causes Mr. Jimmy and a few others to make the terrible choices that led up to the explosion.

Knowing that everything is about to explode makes the film tense even during run-of-the-mill discussions. Director Peter Berg escalates the tension to sweaty palms, but never makes any of it feel like a video game or a super hero movie. As ridiculous as it is watching Kurt Russell and Mark Wahlberg run around an exploding ship saving people, Berg's direction makes all of it work.

The only truly horrendous misstep is Malkovich's Creole accent, which comes across like a little kid trying to do an impression of Gambit.

In a way, "Deepwater Horizon" fixes many of the issues I had with "Sully." "Sully" spent so much time focusing on manufactured drama that it forgot the human heroism it took to land a plane in the Hudson River. There might be a ton of manufactured drama in "Deepwater Horizon," but the film places blame where it squarely belongs and never takes its eye off of the cost of living through something like that. There is a light touch of humanity in every character populating the Deepwater Horizon.

If I was a survivor of Deepwater Horizon or one of the family members of the deceased, I might find this movie terribly offensive because it is, at heart, an action movie. Watching sweaty Wahlberg running and jumping as his muscles glisten in the flickering flame could seem so cynical and offensive, except for one thing: It's a great action movie. As a human, I see how that's problematic. As a cinephile, I loved every second of it.

"Deepwater Horizon"

Dir. Peter Berg

Grade: A-

Now playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX

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