Mark Wahlberg, Deepwater Horizon

Movie Review: Deepwater Horizon (2016) *A Disaster That Makes for a Great Movie*

Deepwater Horizon, Dylan O'Brien

Director Peter Berg has made some very good films (Lone Survivor, Friday Night Lights), but in Deepwater Horizon he delivers his best film about the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.  Making smart choices in story flow, creating possibly the most immersive disaster in cinema history, and avoiding preachy environmental messages, Berg delivers at the end of September a sort-of bookend to September’s opening hit: Sully.  Except aside from both being outstanding films, Deepwater Horizon is in every way the anti-Sully.
Mark Wahlberg, Deepwater Horizon

Berg chooses to focus on only the disaster incident of Deepwater.  You could do a mini-series in the decades of negligence and corporate greed that caused the conditions that set the dominoes to topple.  You could do an equally long mini-series on the environmental and economic impact to the Gulf and Gulf states.  Any of those tangents would cause us to lose the laser focus of cascading disasters that Berg propels the film through.  Using Deepwater Horizon‘s Chief Engineer Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) as his every-man in the chaos, Berg, from the very opening credits begins imparting the audience with the bare minimum of education they’ll need to understand what’s going to happen.

First, and I forgot this, Deepwater is not an oil platform.  It’s a ship.  A harvester of sorts that’s piloted from well to well.  The crew of that ship were British Petroleum contractors.  What happened on Deepwater is, beyond dispute, BP’s fault, and everyone knows it.  Berg quickly makes a distinction between the crew of the ship and the BP brass pushing the captain (Kurt Russell) to undertake dangerous drilling after skipping critical maintenance tests and ignoring well-explained red flag after red flag.  This exposition could have bogged the film down, but it’s well-written and also used to introduce the crew, and without it, you wouldn’t feel the dread slowly creeping into your bones once the ship connects to the pipeline and attempts to drill.
Kurt Russell, Deepwater Horizon

In this film, the event is the star, but Wahlberg and Russell (who I love in small character parts where he gets to act) anchor a strong cast.  No one is showy or Hollywood; they all look like they belong on the rig.  John Malkovich serves as the face of BP, and you could argue he went a little over the top, but they DID do this.  If anything, having read about the case, Malkovich could have twirled a Snidely Whiplash stache and had a pet bat and not been as evil as BP was/is.  I honestly didn’t have a whole lot of respect for Wahlberg at the beginning of his career, but in the right role…..he’s still not as good an actor as his brother Donnie, but he’s closing the gap.
Gina Rodriguez, Deepwater Horizon

Explaining the cascading series of failures of untested cement sealing the well, skipped maintenance and inspections, a ship that already was 10% broken before anything began, and how all that comes together into an oil platform that explodes would take far more mechanical expertise than I have or you want to read.  I seriously urge you to check this out in the theater, because as disaster, after disaster, after disaster beset the Deepwater, Berg has so wisely positioned you with the knowledge you need that you’re immersed wholly in the event in a way I don’t think I’ve ever experienced on film.  The only thing missing is blasting heat pummeling you as you watch the crew first try to save the vessel, then contain the disaster, and then just try to get off alive.  It’s unbelievably tense, and even though it’s been years and we know what happens, that knowledge leaves your head at some point as you watch these contractors, put in a deathtrap by BP, try to do everything they can to avoid what we know will eventually beset the ill-fated vessel.
Deepwater Horizon

After the explosion, for 87 days, the well under the remains of Deepwater continued to pump oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  Over 210 million tons of oil went into the Gulf as the result of this catastrophe.  The heroics of the crew may be the only good story to come out of this disaster.  It’s a dim silver lining when BP executives should be sitting in jail, but at least it gives us the human side of that fateful day. Deepwater Horizon is currently the 10th film I’ve given a 9.0 or above rating in 2016 thus far.  With the Oscar riches of fall yet to come, I think 2016 is going to finish strongly as a very solid year for cinema (with some long gaps).  Bring on the fall!

Deepwater Horizon

4 thoughts on “Movie Review: Deepwater Horizon (2016) *A Disaster That Makes for a Great Movie*”

  1. Awesome. I’ll try to go see it this weekend, on the basis of this review.

    If the film is that good, it’s a shame it’s not doing better, but I kind of understand. Sully just came out and gave people their disaster movie fix for a while, and it was the most good spirited example of the genre I’ve ever seen. You can’t blame birds for getting into an engine, but there are dark and aggravating underpinnings to DH, and I have to admit that they’re even giving me pause. At this juncture in history I think people want their escapism a bit more unfettered. I hope Rogue One is not too dark and gritty. People want to be swept away by SW. I know I do.


    1. DWH is a feat in that it takes something that is horrifying and that will affect the Gulf forever and takes that element out of it while you’re immersed in the sequential events that lead to the cascading system failures that caused the explosion and the escape from the rig. In that respect, I think you have to give Berg a giant amount of credit because we all know the long-term effects and they should have just overshadowed that whole film, but it was so skillfully crafted as the crew’s story to get off the ship that until the coda you don’t think about the environmental impact. It’s incredibly visceral and they did such a good job at taking the crew of Deepwater and making them not just apart from BP but at odds with them so you were rooting like hell for these working men and women to survive this. Berg is someone who is getting better with every film and Patriots Day looks like another ambitious must-see that we get in January. When do we ever get good stuff in January? But March 2017 is so packed (more so even than May at this point) that things are getting into months where we don’t traditionally get quality films.


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