Deepwater Horizon (2016) Review: Disaster Done Right
Ripped from the headlines of the bygone days of 2010, ‘Deepwater Horizon’ reimagines the tragic events of April 20, 2010, in which the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, causing the deaths of 11 crewmen and the worst oil spill in US history. The film focuses on the actual explosion itself, merely mentioning the 87 days of fallout that occurred as a result. Not to be confused with a more recent disaster resulting in countless days of toxic raw material being spewed into the environment, poisoning it and slowly killing life in it.
The film stars Mark Wahlberg as ‘Mike Williams’, the Chief Engineer Technician on the oil rig. At times Mike veers into action hero territory, making the movie feel very ‘Die Hard On an Oil Rig’. Thankfully though, director Peter Berg and company recognize the importance of being earnest, in telling the story of men and women whose lives are put at risk, yet seen as expendable through irresponsible corporate practices.
At the core of it, the movie brings across that message well, and does so without the dramatic fantasy that typically accompanies movies like this. While I have no doubt that some events in the film were exaggerated, it didn’t feel that way. Everything felt as though it could have actually happened that day. No character feels unrealistic, which is troubling considering the shoddy practices on display here. I almost wish the cost cutting business men felt shadier, at least that way I could escape reality.
The cast of course helps this. It isn’t a movie that highlights any major role, as even Wahlberg’s character isn’t too developed. He has a family he’s itching to see again, but nothing beyond that. No, this is a film that wants to show you the events as you may not have visualized them before. That said, performances by Kurt Russell and John Malkovich as opposing figureheads make the movie feel lived in, with strong sense of conviction. Then again, actors like those could probably do a movie like this in their sleep.
Perhaps what ‘Deepwater Horizon’ does best is its ability to coherently bring across tension. Even when the dialogue is muddled by technical jargon, you still get a sense of the looming presence of danger felt by the characters. Even so, said jargon only aids the films feeling of authenticity, which is always a plus in movies based on real events.
There are two moments I am almost certain did not exist in reality. Firstly, Mike compares operating an oil rig to sticking his arm in an underwater cave and hoping a catfish chomps down on it. He emphasizes that hope isn’t a tactic that can replace being prepared, since his arm is always covered in gear for the bite of the catfish. Second, after the oil rig explodes, a seagull charges into a nearby ship after being covered in oil, and almost immediately asphyxiates, briefly noting the after effects that the ongoing oil spill had on the environment. The dramatic relevance of these scenes were crafted well, and felt like they had purpose, not too out of place to feel disingenuous.
For what cannot have been an easy film to direct, everything in ‘Deepwater Horizon’ feels thought out. The set was painstakingly designed to emulate the now destroyed oil rig. Touches like that go a long way in making you feel like justice was done to the story it had to tell.
Rating: Big Screen Watch.