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New films: Deepwater Horizon + 2 moviebriefs

Deepwater Horizon 1320x543 - New films: Deepwater Horizon + 2 moviebriefs

Deepwater Horizon
Directed by Peter Berg

At some point, it feels like we’ll have court cases settled with terms that include which side gets to make the movie from their point of view. We’ve just had the recent films “Sully” and “Snowden,” for example, for which directors Clint Eastwood and Oliver Stone look like the head of the fan club and the lead defense attorney respectively.

“Deepwater Horizon” recounts events on board the floating oil exploration rig of the same name. Designed to drill and cap test wells in water more than a mile and a half deep, the vessel could steer and hold station against currents in order the maintain the vertical drill shaft. In April, 2010 when disaster hit, it was owned by Transocean and leased by BP. There were other companies involved, including Halliburton, although the film focuses on the primary two companies for script simplicity.

As with the aforementioned “Sully” and Snowden,” it’s interesting in a film like this to see how much of the technical aspects of the circumstances and industry are explained to the audience and how much are left to be deduced. Here, the basic concept of plugging a well is demonstrated in an early scene as Mark Wahlberg’s character’s daughter rehearses her school science project in what proves to be an ill omen for his deployment. But much of the rest of the physics is left for the audience to figure out and there’s another coincidental “Sully” moment, as the crew helicopter incurs a bird strike on the way to the rig.

Wahlberg plays lead mechanic Mike Williams, with Kurt Russell as the Transocean crew chief and John Malkovich as one of the BP managers on site. Most of the screenplay revolves around these three characters as we’re carefully shown the poor condition of the rig itself, with multiple systems failing, and the eagerness of the BP team to finish a task that was already weeks behind schedule and tens of thousands of dollars over budget. In one typical exchange, a BP manager is asked why a multi-billion dollar corporation worries about such a seemingly trivial expenses and answers (paraphrased) “That’s how we became a multi-billion dollar corporation.”

Although the general tone of the film, including some details during the end credits including the real people involved, seems like an overt finger-pointing exercise, the actual action sequences are very well put together and this is one of the more successful examples of a film that manages to be suspenseful despite advance knowledge of the outcome. There’s still the upfront sense that the focus will be on the people played by the most recognizable actors but nowhere near the extent demonstrated in last year’s Chilean mining disaster film “The 33.”

Given that the events depicted here resulted in the worst oil disaster in US waters and therefore extensive press coverage, “Deepwater Horizon” is obviously predictable, as suggested previously, in terms of the basic plot developments. But it’s genuinely surprising and gripping in terms of how a disaster of this nature plays out in practice. Something as seemingly innocent as a quiet shower is quickly transformed when the entire crew quarters become a giant version of a gas oven explosion and however rare it might be, it’s remarkable anybody ever relaxes or sleeps in such circumstances.


One of the most peculiar aspects of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” may be how unpeculiar much of it is. I’ve seen it described by some as one of Tim Burton’s best films, but it seemed surprisingly un-Burtony to me. Sure, the children themselves are indeed a little peculiar but this is one of the most conventional looking films from Burton in years. Asa Butterfield (“Ender’s Game”) plays a boy who discovers that his slightly crazy grandfather might not be so crazy after all, when he tracks down the titular home that exists in a one-day-long time loop, hidden from the world and assorted equally peculiar villains. I’m not actually a big fan of his most Burtony films, and often wish he’d tone it down a bit, but the practical outcome here of actually toning it down felt a little flat to me.

Masterminds” may take the title for the most overt celebration of idiocy this year. Dollar amounts may be high but IQ’s are not in this (based on real events) story of the robbery of an armored truck facility. Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a simpleton Loomis Fargo driver who’s convinced to rob his employer by an attractive ex-colleague (Kristin Wiig). To put the film and his character in perspective, in one scene she cuts her breast with a rose thorn and he’s confused that it leaks blood rather than breast milk. Throw in a wannabe criminal puppet master (Owen Wilson) and an overly eager assassin (Jason Sudeikis) and you have a comedy of lowest common denominator appeal. That said, having watched the preview ahead of time, the film managed to maintain the laughs a little more successfully than anticipated, although it’s still a film where one of the biggest laughs is associated with inopportune bodily waste in a hotel swimming pool.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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