Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg have found their own niche. And it’s a doozy. Following up on Lone Survivor, a movie about soldiers in hostile territory that tells you, right there on the label, how it ends, is Deepwater Horizon, about the amazing engineers—they used to call them “roughnecks”, I think—who make the floating oil rigs go. This is to be followed up by Patriot’s Day, about the police work around the Boston Marathon bombing.
While anyone could have their takes on any of these stories, the niche is unambiguously presenting all of the main characters as heroes. Just as Lone Survivor didn’t cover the politics of wars in the Middle East—and I’m willing to bet money that the same will be true of Patriot’s Day—this oil-based movie spends nary a moment on climate change, nor on any hand-wringing over whether or not it’s “worth it” to drill for oil. (It is. And if you don’t agree, GTFO your computer made of petroleum products and powered by burning oil, or by some product made drastically cheaper by the burning of oil.) In fact, our hero, Mike Williams, is presented as a hero because he slays the dinosaurs, as his daughter puts it.
This makes a huge difference in one’s enjoyment of the film, especially if that one is me (or The Boy). It allows one to take the (correct) perspective of admiration for the amazing engineering behind these mobile oil rigs* which—this cannot be repeated enough—are really, really amazing. And, if you need to hate some greedy corporate types, a movie like this gives you the opportunity to do some deserved hating on the short-sighted middle management (played by John Malkovich).
Wahlberg has proven to be very effective as an Everyman, like a more masculine, blue collar Tom Hanks. Meanwhile Berg shows himself to be adept at giving us characters we care about before all hell breaks loose, so that we care that all hell is breaking loose (beyond the ‘splodey stuff). Kurt Russell plays guy-in-charge Jimmy Harrell who is the actual owner (I think) of the rig. Russell has achieved nearly iconic status for this kind of role at this point, and he’s great at it. Wives have a hell of a time in this niche, because they’re not in the action, but they carry the tremendous burden of keeping things going while never knowing if their husband is coming back, and Kate Hudson does a marvelous job at it.
This is the sort of role that gets denigrated and, indeed, is no longer allowed in mainstream movies, which is a shame because it’s both dramatically poignant and socially relevant, to say nothing of admirable. You can’t see movies like American Sniper without feeling a debt toward the women (and children) in these men’s lives. Most of the survivors of the fire, if I recall correctly from the closing credits, got out of the business—a perfectly understandable reaction to the horror.
So, Hudson represents an Everywoman, and does a great job. As does everyone in the little parts that Berg and screenwriters Matthew Micheal Carnahan and Matthew Sand take care to invest with real character. People have lives, families, interests—they’re courageous under fire. Much like Eastwood’s Sully, you can’t see this without feeling like the director likes people.
A standout performance is delivered by Gina Rodriguez (“Jane The Virgin”) as Andrea Fleytas. I loved this role—and I’m sidestepping for the moment that Ms. Fleytas is a real person, who suffered a serious trauma, and I have no idea how accurately the movie reflects her part—because it felt real to me. She’s kinda bad-ass, reconstructing a Mustang in her driveway and being the only woman we see on the rig (there were three, apparently, in real life) and dealing with some complex machinery pretty confidently. But when the time comes to, uh, well, let’s say plunge to almost certain death (to avoid certain death) she needs a little help from the hero.
I would call this “believably bad-ass”, as opposed to the “women never show weakness” which seems to be the standard for competent women in movies these days. It’s weird: It’s not enough to be good or even great, you have to be flawless to be a movie heroine any more. You have to be the best at The Force or eagle hunting, or a demigoddess or whatever. It feels a bit like the “magic negro” ’90s, where black folk couldn’t just be folk—they had to have magical powers. I know lots of bad-ass women; none of them are demigoddesses.
I assume this scene is contrived, as (like the entirety of Eddie The Eagle) it’s just too perfect. I’m going to say that the movie spends enough time on attention to detail—which, by the way, is not simple, what with the mechanics of oil extraction—that it gives itself room to take dramatic license.
The Boy and I both liked it. And we’re looking forward to Patriot’s Day.
*I’m using the term “rig” which may be inappropriate for these vessels.