deepwaterhorizoncoverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family: No
2016, 107 min., Color
Summit Entertainment
Rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Amazon link

Superstition has it that bad things come in threes. I don’t know how true that is, but disaster movies certainly seem to come in clumps, starting in the 1970s, when Airport was followed by The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Flood!, and Hurricane. The next bunch came in the late ‘90s—films like Twister, Titanic, Volcano, Firestorm, and Armageddon.

Last year’s San Andreas may have sparked another revival of the genre, with filmmakers discovering that it provides a terrific opportunity beyond sci-fi superhero movies to flaunt new advances in CGI special effects.

deepwaterhorizonscreen1True to its disaster movie roots, Deepwater Horizon gives only a brief introduction to the main characters—just a glimpse of their personal lives so we care whether they survive the calamity or not. The rest of the film unfolds with breakneck speed, hampered only by the amount of technical stuff going on and a combination of jargon and accented slang that can make deciphering dialogue somewhat difficult—especially given the background noise on a semi-submersible oil-drilling rig located some 250 miles from the Texas-Louisiana coastline. In other words, those who work on the rig designed to extract oil from a vertical depth of 35,000 feet must take a helicopter to get there. By boat, it would take forever.

But isolation is just one problem. There’s so much shoddy equipment onboard you could play a drinking game by hoisting a glass every time another piece of broken or malfunctioning equipment was pointed out—the result of oil giant BP, rig-builder Transocean, and oilfield services company Halliburton wanting to maximize profits by skimping on maintenance, repairs, and work hours. As the plot unfolds—as you watch test crews sent home before doing a requisite test, all because the project was running 40-some days late and it was costing the company too much money—you start to develop a real hatred for big corporations and their profit-over-safety decision-making. This was no small incident. The blowout explosion and fires killed crewmen and spilled roughly 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the largest disaster of its kind. Ever.

deepwaterhorizonscreen2As disaster movies go, Deepwater Horizon is pretty solid, with a cast that bridges three generations of moviegoers: Kurt Russell (Backdraft, Big Trouble in Little China) for the Baby Boomers, Mark Wahlberg (Ted, Entourage) for the Gen Xers, and Dylan O’Brien (The Maze Runner) and Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) for the Millennials. And John Malkovich is on hand to add a little touch of the sinister. Though disaster movies are all about the action and special effects, they still depend on actors to “sell” the disaster, to make us all believe it’s really happening and to like them enough to where we pull for them to somehow make it out.

With a serious cast of big names and bigger talents, Peter Berg (Battleship) is able to go for realism rather than putting all the burden on the special effects team. Yet, when all is said and done, Deepwater Horizon is still a disaster movie, which means the disaster itself is the real star. For it to succeed, the special effects, visual effects, and stunts must be totally convincing . . . and they are. You’d swear you were watching footage of the real disaster, and if the oil rig looks real, it’s because the filmmakers built one especially for Deepwater Horizon, making it one of the biggest set pieces ever. Deepwater Horizon is a taut thriller, so intense that the PG-13 rating really holds true.

Fans of the genre can look forward to the September 2017 release of Granite Mountain, about a team of elite fireman who tackle a deadly wildfire that ends up taking a huge toll.

Language: One f-bomb and plenty of other language once the calamity strikes, but really your focus is on the action and the extremely tense and believable disaster as it unfolds
Violence: LOTS of violence, with some objects imbedding in people and fires and explosions and flying shrapnel everywhere
Sex: No nudity, but a man and woman kiss in bed together; that’s it
Adult Situations:  The entire film is an adult situation
Takeaway: Though a lot of oil-rig workers were worried a movie like this would dishonor the memory of those who died, it does just the opposite . . . especially since it ends with actual photos of those who perished