Deepwater Horizon June 13, 2017
1 Hr., 39 Mins.
The entire ordeal, from its making to its aftermath, is brought to life with a notable lack of sentimentality. The men and women who survived the calamity were undoubtedly heroic, but never are they drawn as anyone other than people cut out of the cloth of the everyday. That furthers their vulnerability, their susceptibility to the unpredictability of the machinery backfiring.
The film takes its time to allow us to get to know those affected before the goings get rough. Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), who becomes our primary protagonist, is an electronics technician with a wife (Kate Hudson) and precocious daughter at home. Jimmy “Mr. Jimmy” Hurrell (Kurt Russell), the rig’s supervisor, is established as a dependably cautious, effectively compassionate leader beloved by nearly everyone with whom he works. Drilling team member Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) is a young husband and father just getting his life started; Navigation Officer Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) is still paying off her debts and wants nothing more than to fix up her retro — but perpetually imperfect — red Mustang. We come to care about these people well before the catastrophe makes way, and that’s the secret to Deepwater Horizon’s success — the special effects are second fiddle to the immense emotional devotion we feel toward these individuals.
Though the special effects are sensational. The movie’s reported budget comes somewhere around $150 million dollars, and it looks it. So comprehensive, epically mounted, and nightmarish are they — the fire, mud, oil, and knockabout shards of glass merge to create a distinct hell on Earth — we become utterly transported into the hellacious situation. What Berg, along with the feature’s screenwriters, Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, has done is remarkable. He’s made an action movie where the stakes as uncharacteristically high and where the aftereffects of kabooms aplenty are finally weighty rather than throwaway. It’s huge and it’s thrilling, but all is coated in momentous agony. Though Hudson is given the thankless role of the helpless wife pondering her husband’s survival, viewers become exactly what she is: a paralyzed bystander who cannot do much more than simply wait around and hope things will work themselves out.
The film assigns blame to a despicable BP representative (John Malkovich) whose corner cutting led to the disaster in the first place. But Deepwater Horizon, broadly, is really an analogy for the consequences that can come with clashing egos when confronted with greed. And it works. Some of the early scenes, which are not much more than long stretches of jargon, are tedious and gratuitous. One additionally wishes there would be something more of an epilogue — all we see is a series of warm embraces followed by obligatory pictures of those involved alongside clinical strings of text.
But Deepwater Horizon is bravura filmmaking all the same. In the wake of the surprise commercial triumph of Lone Survivor, Berg seems to have hit his stride as a producer and director of serious adult dramas worthy of discussion. This film is no different: it’s a visceral biopic among 2016’s most under-appreciated. B+
eave it to Peter Berg, the naturalism-favoring actor-turned filmmaker behind Friday Night Lights (2004) and Lone Survivor (2014), to make a biopic no one was pining to see and manage to make it sing with authenticity, urgency, and a crushing sense of loss. It covers the tragedy, environmental or otherwise, that was the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, the BP oil rig that infamously malfunctioned in 2010 and caused the largest ecological disaster of all time.