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Reel Heroes & Villains
Greg Smith & Scott T. Allison
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Deepwater Horizon ••

deepwater_horizon_filmStarring: Mark Wahlberg,  Kurt Russell,  Douglas M. Griffin
Director Peter Berg
Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan,  Matthew Sand
Action/Drama/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Date: September 30, 2016


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It’s October and time for a hunt for a good film. Deepwater Horizon was our first stop – and I fear we’ll have to keep looking.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

We’re going to have to go deeper into the year for Oscar material and then we’ll find brighter horizons. Let’s recap.

We are introduced to Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) – a rigger for the oil drilling ship the Deep Horizon. He spends time with his daughter who is doing a show-and-tell about her father’s job. For her class (and the audience) she explains that Williams drills the hole that releases millennia-old dinosaur-created oil so that subsequent ships may come and pump the oil out. Williams heads out to the airport where he meets the captain of their ship – James “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell) and pilot Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez). Things are not getting off to a good start when it appears the cement cap team is leaving the Deepwater Horizon prematurely.

It turns out that BP representative Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) made the executive decision to bypass the normal safety procedure of testing the cement cap. Harrell is unhappy with this development and insists on conducting some pressure tests of the main pipeline. The results are ambiguous, leading to a follow-up test of the “kill-line”. Meanwhile, far beneath the sea, we witness ominous fissures, bubbles, and pressure brewing. Up on the rig, workers are relaxed and cracking jokes, unaware of the impending disaster.

Scott, Deepwater Horizon is a technically well-crafted movie. The effects and acting are just great. You will believe those people are on a burning drilling rig. However, as a story, the movie falls flat. It’s merely a “day in the life” of some people who were in a terrible situation. This movie pales in comparison to Sully, the film of Capt. Sullenberger and his heroic efforts to save a failed flight.

Sully had a true plot with villains and heroes. While Deepwater attempts to create drama with BP’s Vidrine acting as a villain, there is no true problem to solve. Deepwater is content to throw us into the events of the worst oil spill in American history, but not to give us a proper story with a beginning, middle, and an end. I didn’t have a good time.

I hate to agree with you, Greg, but I have no choice. This movie desperately needed Clint Eastwood’s magic touch, the same touch that turned Sully from a potentially dull day-in-the-life story into a riveting portrayal of a complex man in a complex situation. In Deepwater Horizon, there really isn’t any complexity. In fact, you and I knew exactly what would happen before we entered the theater: A big company wanted to save money by cutting corners on safety procedures. The good guys warned the big company of the consequences, but to no avail. Disaster ensued.

We do have a hero’s journey, but it tends to be a one-dimensional account of the good guys being thrown into a calamity and having to survive it. The CGI effects are terrific, which is this movie’s one saving grace. But they aren’t enough to compensate for the simplicity of the story, such as it is. Jimmy Harrell sort of mentors Mike Williams, but not really. A running joke (and a bad one at that) throughout the film is all the mentoring advice people are giving Fleytas about her car, but it’s not relevant to anything. The story and the characters all suffer from a fatal case of blandness, although I must confess that Kate Hudson’s character Felicia was gorgeous and had my full attention.

Deepwater Horizon is an exciting disaster film, but with few other enticements. The production values are good as is the acting. But the film lacks heart and borders on documentary. I can only give it 2 out of 5 Reels.

The men and women on the Deepwater Horizon acted heroically. Their counterparts in BP were vilified and made to look to be at fault for the accident. It’s hard to be objective since the film was slanted against the BP execs. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Heroes for this film.

The mentors are lacking as there isn’t a lot of guidance through a special world, or gifts given. I offer only 1 Mentor point out of 5.

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I completely agree, Greg. The filmmakers here missed an opportunity to tell a good story about a senseless disaster. Instead, we’re treated to a film plagued by all the cliches of disaster movies from yesteryear. Deepwater Horizon isn’t a complete fiasco; it just suffers from bland predictability. I’d say 2 Reels out of 5 is a generous rating here.

There is a hero’s journey in this story, but it’s a fairly one-dimensional tale of survival. Our heroes are good decent people whom we root for, and our villains are shortsighted selfish bastards who deserve to be locked up. There’s no depth, no heroic transformation of character, just survival. Again, a rating of 2 out of 5 Heroes seems about right for me.

Alas, the heroic mentorship in this film is even more lacking than the other key elements of the hero story. There’s some implied mentoring that we never see but little else. A rating of 1 Mentor point out of 5 seems about right.

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