For a review of “Deepwater Horizon,”
With a scant introduction, director Peter Berg airlifts the audience into the chaotic micro-culture of offshore oil drilling in “Deepwater Horizon.”
Our hero, Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), barely has time to kiss his wife (Kate Hudson) and kid (Stella Allen) before we’re awash in the jargon and joshing of roughnecks, engineers and BP company men jostling for the bottom line.
Berg’s camera jogs behind the Horizon crew on the job: Mike, the electronics technician, rig boss Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) and bridge officer Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez). Among the verbal melee one phrase is initially repeated over and over until it rises out of the ambient chatter and we realize just how important it is: “cement test,” or the lack thereof. The cement is what protects the oil rig from the pressure of the oil and gas drilled out of the well below it, and over-budget and over-schedule, the higher ups decided to take their chances with the cement and save a few couple hundred thousand.
There’s another phrase, repeated by Mike: “Hope ain’t a tactic.” In fact, hope fails the crew at every turn. Hope fails after an inconclusive negative pressure test on the drill line; hope fails when mud starts flowing up out of the well; and hope is blown to smithereens when every safety protocol and backup system fails due to human or mechanical error and the Deepwater Horizon explodes into a seaborne towering inferno.
The story of the disaster is based on a New York Times article by David Barstow, David Rodhe and Stephanie Saul, and has been massaged into Hollywood-style heroics by screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand.
While the article indicates no clear villain other than miscommunication and lack of leadership and preparation, “Deepwater Horizon” gives us pure villainy in the form of company man Donald Vidrine. He’s played with a chop-licking, sneering sense of evil by John Malkovich, who spews Bayou-accented charm and threats in equal measure; urging and persuading the crew to do things his way, the cheap and easy way.
Berg and the writers plunge you into this world without much explanation and many moments feel like a crash course in the politics and logistics of offshore oil drilling. But there’s care taken to foreshadow the important moments that are anchors throughout the story. A Coke can demonstration for a school project explains the drilling process in the simplest of terms; a company man is asked to remove his magenta tie for good luck because magenta alerts are the worst on the rig.
The tension never lets up, thanks to the rumbling, quaking well on the sea floor that groans and bubbles and whooshes ominously, interjecting frequently. That undersea grumble erupts into a horrific, roaring spectacle of fire, and Berg cleanly captures that terrible chaos and destruction.
Thanks to efficient and effective character moments — a nickname, a greeting, a tease — we know everyone is in the dark, smoky rubble, slicked with mud and oil, and the human losses are keenly felt, even more so when the film pays tribute to the 11 men who died on the rig at the end of the film. “Deepwater Horizon” captures this incomprehensible disaster, pointing a finger at those responsible, but without eliding the horrific randomness of it all.
“Deepwater Horizon,” a Summit Entertainment release, is rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language. Running time: 107 minutes.
There’s a certain subset of the population that may find Zach Galifianakis in a ridiculous hairdo the height of comedy. If you are in that segment, welcome, join us. You’ll find much merriment in the lightweight and very silly comedy “Masterminds,” which is astonishingly based on the true story of one of the largest cash robberies in the United States. Also, Galifianakis sports a variety of insane wigs and ’dos, from a long blonde number, to a kinky black perm, to his own Prince Valiant bob, styled for the heavens.
“Masterminds” is a small, very strange film, and definitely doesn’t enter the upper echelons of director Jared Hess’ oeuvre, which includes the wacky comedy classics “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Nacho Libre,” or even the best work of its stars. Nevertheless, the marriage of the insane 1997 true crime story and the murderer’s row of comic performers results in copious laughter.
Galifianakis plays awshucks naif David Ghantt, an employee of armored truck company Loomis Fargo, trapped in a loveless engagement with Jandice (an unblinking Kate McKinnon), carrying a torch for his coworker, sassy Kelly (Kristen Wiig). Kelly and her petty thief buddy Stephen (Owen Wilson) hatch a plan to rob the company vault, and ensnare lovelorn David into their plot as their inside man.
Despite a complete lack of skill or common sense, David pulls off the robbery, although soon he’s stranded on the lam in Mexico, while Stephen and his family are living high on the hog back in North Carolina, freely spending the millions David stole for them.
Hess’ approach is to give his comedic performers the time, space and permission to push the boundaries of their own bizarre tendencies. From Jack Black’s riffs in “Nacho Libre” to the deadpan ad libs of Jemaine Clement in “Don Verdean,” Hess creates spaces for comic weirdness to percolate, and it’s the perfect showcase for a comedian like Galifianakis, who can illicit belly laughs from a well-deployed glance or intonation from one of his very specifically rendered characters.
“Masterminds” offers plenty of opportunities for hilarious moments from the incredibly funny cast, which also includes two other “Saturday Night Live” performers, Leslie Jones and Jason Sudeikis. It’s a cast where one can just turn the cameras on and watch the madness unfold — whether it’s Wiig crooning a wordless love ballad into a walkie-talkie, an inspired take on an engagement photo shoot featuring David and Jandice, or simply Galifianakis on roller blades.
But there’s something about the slower, dry, Hessian tone working in concert with this high-octane heist story that doesn’t quite jibe. Perhaps it’s that this is the first film that Hess has directed that he hasn’t written (the script is by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Emily Spivey), but it’s as if there are too many characters, too many plot twists, too many action-based, broad story moments, which ultimately curb the opportunities to really let these weirdos loose.
The film devolves into a schlocky ’90s unlikely-herosaves-the-day routine, and fails to delve into deeper themes about crimes and punishment and passion. There’s also the unshakable feeling that at times, cast and filmmakers might be laughing at their small-town subjects rather than with them. Yet “Masterminds” still has its riotously funny moments, thanks to the fearless, uninhibited actors and a director who lets them play.
“Masterminds,” a Relativity Media release, is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some language and violence. Running time: 94 minutes.
Jason Sudekis and Zach Galifianakis star in the film “Masterminds.”