‘Deepwater Horizon’ Review
Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg are in the midst of their unofficial true story heroism trilogy. It began with the compelling, at times gratitously violent and moving war film Lone Survivor.
They have Patriot’s Day coming in December, which is based on the Boston Marathon bombing, but before we get to that, Wahlberg and Berg must survive the Deepwater Horizon disaster from 2010.
I emphasize the word “disaster” because this is the definition of a disaster film. I normally associate that word with Roland Emmerich films like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. No more. Those are popcorn movies with glorious special effects. But at no point in any of those movies did I feel terror or anger.
Berg’s focus is entirely on the events that occurred on April 20, 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. Eleven men lost their lives and countless others were injured. By keeping the focus on the disaster, Berg avoids politicizing (For the most part) and instead shines a light on the heroes who risked (and in some cases sacrificed) their lives to help others.
At the center is Mike Williams played by Wahlberg. Williams is the chief electrical technician on the rig. Together with his boss Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), Williams lays out their frustration over numerous problems aboard the rig. Among them are 390 systems — 10 percent of all systems — that are down.
BP management doesn’t want to hear about problems. The rig is already 43 days over schedule and the suits want to start drilling. Led by the oily (Puns!) Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich), they convince Harrell to run a test of the equipment. But the test eventually triggers an explosion that sends the entire rig up in flames.
The first half of the movie is all about cause while the second half is effect. What led to this disaster happening? Unfortunately, the cause was something many workers in any field can relate to: cutting corners.
Berg does a great job of immersing the audience in this field of work for the first half of the film. The screenwriters refuse to hold our hand by mostly avoiding exposition. We’re left to decipher lots of oil rig jargon and at times it can be confusing. But that level of detail adds to the authenticity.
Wahlberg plays perhaps the most normal, everyday guy he’s ever portrayed. He’s not shooting bad guys, jumping off Transformers or fighting. He’s a worker with a wife and child and this everyman role really fits Wahlberg. He should play this kind of character more often.
Russell as always is rugged and commanding and Malkovich does Malkovich things (Including a thick Louisiana accent).
The disaster itself is a technical marvel. The filmmakers built an entire rig for the production and blending visual and practical effects; destroy the whole thing. Berg keeps the camera on the ground with the crew and this conveys a sense of urgency that never lets up.
Someone like Emmerich would feature many aerial shots to emphasize the scope of the situation while cutting away to figureheads. Berg has no interest in that. He wants to scare you, not thrill you. You shouldn’t feel entertained by what you’re seeing and Berg masterfully avoids this despite having blockbuster money at his disposal.
I said earlier that this wasn’t a political film. It isn’t, but Berg still places the blame squarely on BP. But his methods seem to come from a place of transparency rather than placing blame.
Deepwater Horizon doesn’t want you to point fingers. It exists to document a horrible disaster that occurred in 2010. Emphasis on disaster.