Deepwater Horizon: Film Review
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich, Ethan Suplee, Dylan O'Brien
Director: Peter Berg
Mixing both traditional disaster movie with damning indictment of BP's role in the April 20th 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil slick proves to be a potent mix for director Peter Berg.
It seems natural that Berg, whose MO recently has become to champion the everyman (see Wahlberg in Lone Survivor) for their fight against the impossible or the powers that be, would be drawn to this true story that ultimately led to the tragic deaths of 11 men. And it makes sense to have him re-team with actor Wahlberg, whose heartland appeal and filmography is full of representing for the common man.
For those uninitiated with what's been dubbed one of the largest man-made disasters, Wahlberg plays Mike Williams in this biographical re-telling of that fateful night. Just about to start on a 3 week rotation on the rig some 48 nautical miles off land, Williams and rig head honcho Mr Jimmy Harrell (a wiry taut Russell) suspect that the project's being rushed by BP after it falls 43 days behind. With crucial safety tests being bucked and avoided, and pressure being piled on from the big wigs on site, including Malkovich's Vidrine, the seeds of disaster are sown when they refuse to listen to those who know the equipment and signs of what lies ahead...
Blessed with technical jargon and large dollops of good ole blue collar workers simply doing their jobs and disagreeing with the man, Deepwater Horizon is less a conversation about corporate negligence, more a full on slamming of the health and safety ignorances on display.
There's no way anyone from BP will be happy with this as the unethical practices they appear to push rise to the fore like mud from a bore well in a pipe under the Gulf of Mexico. To be fair to Berg, he simply lets the story tell itself in almost biographical fashion and lets the actions of those within be the condemnation he needs for the film to sit well with audiences.
While the first half of the film sets up its stall with a swirling heady mix of superstitions being presented ahead of a shift to the banality of daily routines from Wahlberg talking to his screen daughter about how the oil is a monster below the surface and Jane The Virgin star Rodriguez dealing with mechanical issues on cars at home, Berg manages to bring a kernel of life to a group of characters that barely get any more once they're on the rig. While Hudson's relegated to the sidelines once the inferno hits, she's the anchor the audience need to weigh in the emotion, because once the chaos takes over the rig, a lot happens and to be frank, a lot of the time, you're not entirely sure who it's happening to.
A brief note of praise must go to the sound design of Deepwater Horizon - it's simply as terrifying as any disaster film you've encountered before; from the creaking of the platform to the bubbling underwater, here is where Berg's film finds its menace and where audiences will cower.
However, like the seething oil beneath the surface bubbling to top, Berg can't help his own jingoism manifesting in the final third of the movie (a US flag flapping on its pole while the rig explodes and fireballs is up there with anything as subtle executed by Michael Bay) and it's to the detriment of all that's preceded. Choosing to end the film with pictures of the killed is a fairly salutary approach and tars proceedings with mawkish sentiment that really doesn't resonate. Though in Berg's defence, the whole coda of Deepwater Horizon would be tricky to negotiate.
Ultimately, Deepwater Horizon is a scathing film, a visceral take on a disaster and while some of the excesses could have done with being reined in a little, Berg's relative desire to play this balanced and straight down the middle and never talk down to its audience may actually see it succeed infinitely more than any biased polemic against BP ever could.