Deepwater Horizon, 2016.
Directed by Peter Berg.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriquez, Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson and John Malkovich.
A story set on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded during April 2010 and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
By all accounts, it would have been far easier for Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg’s surprising retelling of the BP oil rig disaster of 2010 – to pull its punches, to water down its politics, to portray British Petroleum as incidental disaster artists. Yet to Peter Berg’s credit – who is again finding his feet after the one-two of Hancock and Battleship – he’s created a blockbuster that at once is ripe with anger, whilst operating as an incredibly efficient blockbuster.
Berg has always occupied a strange space in Hollywood. His Friday Night Lights was at times meditative, yet his latter films are far more akin to Michael Bay at his most masturbatory, Battleship in particular rather jingoistic in its study of board game politics. With this, there’s every right to fear that Deepwater would fall into a similar flag-waving celebration.
Yet it never does. In fact, it’s remarkably ballsy in its brash restaging of the worst oilrig disaster in history. Even Wahlberg, who’s performances in recent years have been somewhat questionable, puts in a performance that reminds exactly why it was he shone so bright way back when in Boogie Nights.
Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams, an everyman engineer, who alongside Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), are flown out to Deepwater Horizon, a hulking oilrig off the Gulf of Mexico. On board, Jimmy Harrell (a commanding Kurt Russell) is forced to contend with BP executives, in particular Vidrine (John Malkovich), who seem adamant that even amidst safety concerns, drilling must go ahead. As drilling begins, disaster strikes, forcing all those aboard to fight for their safety as the rig burns and crumbles.
Before shit hits the fan, Berg allows the milieu to expand at a creaking pace. It takes an hour for disaster to strike, giving us enough time to wallow in the almost impenetrable lingo of the oilrig workers, whilst giving the time to portray the BP big wigs as “money-hungry sonsabitches;” a move that only furthers the bilious tone.
Even as disaster strikes and bodies are thrown, soot, mud and oil raining down, it never plays itself sentimental. Character deaths, and there are many, hit hard, even those with which characterisation may be lacking.
Berg handles the action with a surprising deft touch, placing emphasis on arresting imagery-a shot of an exec looking up at the American flag as everything burns around him is as commanding as anything-yet never exploits the innate tragedy. There are maybe one too many sacrificial declarations, but Berg smartly plays the action with striking anarchy.
As the film comes to a close, Berg smartly focuses on the shock of the normal, showing Wahlberg’s character breaking down in a baron hotel room, bringing to mind Tom Hanks’ powerhouse performance during the final five minutes of Captain Phillips. It’s a moment that shocks and moves in equal measure.
Wahlberg puts in a performance of immense maturity that bubbles with insecurity and sadness. Kurt Russell, in the throws of a welcome resurgence, is an ever-reliable screen presence, as is Malkovich, who continues to spout lines with the glee of a 70s Bond villain. Gina Rodriguez is a welcome addition, playing against type as a steely-eyed worker.
Berg holds the sentimentality for the credits, which although burdened with a cloying country track, respects those that lost their lives with a touching in memoriam.
Deepwater Horizon is a testament to all those that lost their lives during a disaster that continues to shock. It’s a film of sad importance, played with fair vitriol to those responsible. A supreme disaster movie.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★