It’s hard to believe it’s been over six years since the Deepwater Horizon blowout and subsequent oil spill, the worst in U.S. history as 210 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. While many likely have vivid recollections of the underwater camera showing oil pouring out of the well, few likely understand what led up to the disaster and the heroics that took place on the rig that day as eleven people ultimately lost their lives. Director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Battleship) and screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand bring the proceedings to vivid life in Deepwater Horizon, a smart and often thrilling film that doesn’t quite pack the punch it should.
The story follows four Transocean contractors aboard the Deepwater Horizon that fateful day. There’s chief electronics technician Mike Williams (Wahlberg), crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Russell), bridge officer Andrea Fleytas (Rodriguez), and the youngest worker on board, Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien). Arriving for a three-week shift, the group discovers the project is already forty-five days behind schedule and BP, the lessee of the rig, is side-stepping important safety measures to keep the project afloat. After a negative pressure test proves inconclusive, drilling begins at the insistence of BP, directly leading to the calamity.
Between this and 2013’s Lone Survivor, it’s obvious Berg is drawn to stories of heroism in unimaginable circumstances. He and his team spend the first half of Deepwater Horizon outlining the decisions that led to the disaster. There’s a lot of shop talk and minute detail, but it’s deserving of screen time to fully understand the big picture of how the Titanic of oil rigs went up in flames. The temptation to get overly political was certainly there for Carnahan and Sand, but they keep things on the level while still handing BP the deserved blame. The second half is wall-to-wall action as the crew attempts to vacate the inferno via life boats. Problems arise when it comes actually caring a lot about these folks. Except for a glimpse into Williams’s family life early on, none of the characters are developed beyond their one and only job on the rig. That’s not to say their acts of heroism go unnoticed, but it prevents Deepwater Horizon from a resonating much beyond a topical disaster film. Berg’s tendency to squeeze in as much patriotic imagery as possible becomes a distraction (how many flags were on this rig?) and the ending feels unfocused and rushed. However, the fallen do get their proper remembrance.
Quibbles aside, Deepwater Horizon is still worth a look as a well-executed action picture with a handful of powerful moments that make the journey worth it. The cast is superb, led by Wahlberg in another every-man role and Kurt Russell, making great hay in his older years, as the gruff crew chief. John Malkovich turns up in extra-slimy mode as BP executive Donald Vidrine, one of two men actually indicted on manslaughter charges after the debacle. The charges were dropped late last year through a plea bargain. While not nearly as unforgettable as the events on which it’s based, Deepwater Horizon works well enough as a spectacle and tribute to the fallen.
Studio: Summit Entertainment
Length: 107 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images, and brief strong language.
Theatrical Release: September 30, 2016
Directed by: Peter Berg
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan & Matthew Sand
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Kate Hudson