It pays remarkable tribute to the victims and survivors without feeling exploitative.
Deepwater Horizon is a gripping retelling of the worst oil disaster in U.S. history, striking a delicate balance between grisly action and honoring the survivors and victims.
Deepwater Horizon follows the crew on the titular offshore oil-drilling rig 49 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The rig was owned by Transocean and under lease to BP. Among the crew are chief electronics technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), who has to spend 20 days away from his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter (Stella Allen). Also on board is Transocean crew captain Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), who is being presented with a workplace safety award, technician Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), floor hand Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) and tool pusher Jason Anderson (Ethan Suplee).
By the time we arrive at Deepwater Horizon, production is behind 43 days, with equipment in a horrific state. The crew is under pressure from a few BP executives, including Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich). A rushed production, failed tests, and faulty equipment leads to disaster, with a horrific blowout engulfing the rig in flames. This blowout, which took place on April 20, 2010, took 11 crew members and caused a massive offshore oil spill.
What you see is what you get with Deepwater Horizon. It is a straightforward retelling of the disaster, but its success is not just dependent on its superficial technical prowess. We follow our characters as they interact on the rig with each other. The script, by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, provides us with enough about the characters that we can relate to them, with humor helping to drive the humanity. At the center is Wahlberg, who delivers a captivating performance. His relationship with Hudson provides moments of welcome release, and Hudson has never been more compelling. Russell also gives nuance to his character. One of the more exciting performances comes from Rodriguez, whose Andrea is a no-nonsense and relatable figure. The only actor struggling to add more layers is Malkovich, who is unfortunately stuck in typical snarling villainous mode.
While the spectacle can threaten to overwhelm, and Berg is not exactly the most nuanced storyteller, our human characters firmly remain front and center. We root for their survival not just because of the fact that this was reality, but because we can relate. If there’s one thing Berg loves, it’s all-American heroes. He gives those to us in spades.
When Deepwater Horizon arrives at its eventual disaster, the technical production is astounding. The grisly details are not skipped over. In particular, the use of glass provides gruesome imagery as it sticks into skin. What’s impressive is that the action relies as much on the science and engineering as it does on the effects, grit and grime. It’s a testament to the script that the know-how of the blowout is explained in meticulous detail that is understandable. What follows is an unflinching assault on the senses that is effective rather than overstated. Tight camera work and editing, as well as a sensory score from Steve Jablonsky, paint a horrifying picture to great effect. Berg knows spectacle and this rivals the grit in his previous true-story effort Lone Survivor, especially in IMAX.
Deepwater Horizon works because it does not stay above the surface. All the grit is gruesome, all the humanity is on display, and the audience reaction could inspire both hope and anger, which it should. It pays remarkable tribute to the victims and survivors without feeling exploitative. | Bill Loellke