Pressure is about a team of underwater welders (Danny Huston, Matthew Goode, Joe Cole and Alan McKenna). They are fixing a deep-water oil pipe off the coast of Somalia when a storm hits and sinks the boat on which they came. Now, the four are stuck at 670 feet beneath the ocean surface, inside a diving bell that is quickly running out of oxygen. The four have just hours to find a way to get rescued, but at the bottom of the ocean in the middle of nowhere, they don't have very many options.
The idea behind this film is transparent enough. This is a story of survival in an extreme environment, working off the tension that blooms between people in a dangerous, claustrophobic setting. And while this is a fine idea in itself, the execution leaves much to be desired. Pressure squanders a really unique setup with rote characters, murky plotting, and filmmaking that achieves the opposite of the intended effect. A fairly strong cast gives the film a sense of gravity, but the script doesn’t quite deserve that effort.
The thing about this plot is that there isn't much for the characters to do. There are certainly crises to address, but there's very little that the protagonists can do to better their situation. A drastic solution is pitched early on in the picture, and it's clear right away that the story will mainly consist of waiting around until things get so dire that they're going to have to resort to drastic measures. While the setting is certainly unique, it doesn't seem to provide much opportunity for action.
And this would be fine if the characters were compelling, if their interactions could fill the silences left by their impossible situation. But they're all pretty basic, adhering to very thin types without much variation. There is the by-the-book leader, the weathered veteran, the troublemaker and the rookie. Very little of what is said inside the diving bell feels distinct. It is just a series of clichés concerning the past and redemption and the acceptance of one's fate. The direction doesn't make things any better. It attempts to inject energy into the proceedings with flashing lights and a shaky camera, but using so much movement takes away from the claustrophobia of the setting.
Even a solid cast can't make this material sing. Matthew Goode is always easy to watch on screen, and there are moments where the actor conveys an insecurity in the character that creates genuine intrigue. But the writing just doesn't give him enough. The same goes for Danny Huston, who is certainly comfortable playing the grizzled old dog who has seen too much. The actor is quite nimble in the part, and his weathered face tells stories that the script does not. But it just isn't enough to make up for all the shortcomings.
Pressure might have worked better as an even quieter film, one that wasn't at all concerned with dealing with crises. It could have just accepted the hopelessness of the situation, and used it as a setup for a dialogue focused character piece. The film just doesn't have the resources to make this concept exciting, and what it ends up doing just makes all the action murkier. The key to this story might not be in tricking the audience into thinking that four guys sitting around at the bottom of the ocean is exciting. It might just be to make those four guys interesting people worthy of their attention.
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