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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Deepwater Horizon'

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Posted at 6:16 AM, Sep 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-30 09:16:42-04

Phil Villarreal's novel, Zeta Male, is available at Amazon.

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It's easy to dismiss the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster -- which claimed 11 lives as an oil rig blew up and poisoned the Gulf of Mexico with unthinkable amounts of crude -- as an obscene sacrifice of idiotic capitalistic greed. The object of Peter Berg's "Deepwater Horizon" drama is to reassert that notion while adding the heart and sentiment involved in the story that didn't show up amid the news reports.

There were smart people aboard who saw the potential for disaster coming, and did everything in their power to prevent it. They grumbled and huffed as corporate overlords prodded them into going forward with an operation that glanced over safety protocols in the name of boosting the bottom line. It's the kind of thing every corporate drone deals with on a daily basis, only most peoples' office politics downfalls don't result in deadly explosions. 

There were workers who suddenly faced down snap decisions that proved what they were made of, and in seeing their stories you have to wonder how you would react. Would you scramble to safety at all costs or risk death in order to help others make it out alive?

And saddest of all, there were the 11 innocents who said goodbye to loved ones to go off on weeks-long hitches on the rig, not realizing they would never return.

Berg focuses on a middle management quality control operative played by Mark Wahlberg. He's proud of the work he does, which pays him well enough to sacrifice the time away from his doting wife (Kate Hudson) and young daughter. In an early scene at a breakfast table, he walks his kid through the purpose of his job, to open up and secure oil wells for companies to follow up and drill them, by puncturing a soda can with a clogged straw. The setup holds for a bit, before blowing up all over the table in an ominous omen.

The film's best moments are the ones wrapped up in tension that builds up as much as the oil well the rig is tapping. Blue collar workers clash with suits over the smartest way to finish the money-leaking project. Everyone has an agenda, and no one truly realizes the stakes of the power struggles at hand. Kurt Russell, Ethan Suplee and Gina Rodriguez etch out their characters as those who advice caution, while John Malkovich hams it up in the thankless villain role as a BP executive intent on jamming the project through at all cost to please his overlords and lock down his bonuses.

Once the inevitable disaster strikes, the film shifts in tone and becomes a breathless action sequence that lasts through the end. Spectacularly grim special effects are just as much the stars of the screen as the harried characters, who dodge crumbling towers, leap flame-filled chasms and tangle for spots on life boats and helicopter rescues. It's terrible beauty to behold, with a convincingly seamless mix of practical and CGI effects.

Most surprisingly, "Deepwater Horizon" manages to be as forcefully uplifting as it is a relentless downer. Don't be surprised if its probing breaches your tear ducts.

RATING: 3 stars out of 4.