A dramatization of the April 2010 disaster when the offshore drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, exploded and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
‘Deepwater Horizon’ is a superior disaster movie about the tragic oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico several years ago, directed well by Peter Berg. The film primarily follows electronics technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) as a day on the oil rig pans out with various signs of trouble identified and the cast of characters established. It’s based on a horrific true story so we know what’s coming, but Peter Berg manages to wring every ounce of tension out of the situation and the narrative had me gripped from the outset. Every time a piece of machinery moves or an alarm sounds we’re on edge and expecting the shit to really hit the fan, and it’s to the credit of the direction and the performances that we’re so invested.
Mark Wahlberg is a reliable piece of casting in these kind of roles and whilst there’s nothing special about his performance here he gets the job done. A large part of the investment in his character comes from the way his relationship with his wife (Kate Hudson) is portrayed, which came as a surprise to me after how badly written and cheesy it looked in the trailer. I generally hate the ‘spouse at home who can’t help’ element of these kinds of movies, but Wahlberg and Hudson have great chemistry and it’s generally a well written portrayal of a loving marriage. Not something that should need called out but it did surprise me! Beyond Wahlberg, Berg makes smart casting choices to fill the main roles without relying on exposition and specific character development. For the well worn drilling rig manager, Kurt Russell slots in effortlessly, likewise John Malkovich as a corporate representative (more on him later) and Gina Rodriguez is warm and engaging as a rookie navigation officer.
Laying this groundwork lends weight to our investment when the rig blows up and the narrative turns into a simple life or death battle for all of the core characters. From a technical perspective the film is spectacular with good visual effects and a strong grasp on editing and pacing to depict the confusion amidst the chaos without completely losing the viewer in the labyrinthine layout of the oil rig. The film has one major misstep and that’s John Malkovich’s performance as Donald Vidrine, the BP executive forcing the crew to take risks to get the behind schedule job back on track. It’s a performance that just about derails the entire film, and it’s particularly surprising in a film that takes a respectful approach to the real life victims and survivors for the most part. His over the top villainous performance is straight out of a comic book, with a terrible accent to match, and it jars terribly with the grounded performances around him. Thankfully he’s only a supporting role and time spent with his character is minimal, but it feels like Berg and Malkovich are taking a sledgehammer approach to depicting the evils of the corporation that are indirectly implicated in the tragedy when this element of the story essentially tells itself and doesn’t need expanded upon.
‘Deepwater Horizon’ is a surprisingly tactful retelling of a real life tragedy that claimed 11 lives and whilst it doesn’t quite nail its message about corporate greed it more than makes up for it in a thrilling and engrossing spectacle.
Directed By: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Brad Leland, David Maldonado, J.D. Evermore and John Malkovich