UK Release Date: 29th September 2016
Runtime: 108 minutes
Director: Peter Berg
Writer: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Matthew Sand
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich, Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson
Synopsis: A crew aboard an oil rig in the sea must fight for their lives after a catastrophic accident leaves the entire rig falling into the sea in flames, with only a few plucky workers able to survive.
Peter Berg has had a rather unusual directorial career, from the zany comedy of Hancock to the over-cranked silliness of Battleship, with the odd Lone Survivor thrown in for a bit more of a serious edge. He has reteamed with that film’s star, reliable Hollywood leading man Mark Wahlberg, for Deepwater Horizon, which takes on a major disaster – the destruction of the eponymous oil rig, which subsequently spewed gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, causing unspeakable environmental damage. It’s a solidly made, but frustratingly unsubtle, take on a complex issue, which it boils down to a pretty basic story of an American hero battling the odds.
Mike Williams (Wahlberg) leaves his family for work on the titular oil rig out in the Gulf of Mexico. His boss Jimmy (Kurt Russell) has safety concerns about various aspects of the rig, but these are waved away by BP executive Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich), who wants drilling to continue unabated. When disaster strikes and the rig becomes an inferno after a huge explosion, it’s down to Mike and fellow crew members including Andrea (Gina Rodriguez) and Caleb (Dylan O’Brien) to get as many people as possible off the rig alive.
Deepwater Horizon is a perfectly competent disaster movie that is directed with a workmanlike air by Berg, but it’s shocking how little emotion it manages to bring about. The film is a dispassionate look at a genuine tragedy that has very little interest in exploring the ramifications of that tragedy beyond the night of the incident. By stripping the film down to a basic human story, Berg and writers Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand lose much of the scope that should be covered by the narrative. A sole, black-coated seabird is the single hint that this didn’t end with the final fluttering American flag.
Wahlberg is entirely capable of playing the likeable blue collar everyman and he does a decent job in Deepwater Horizon, but the character doesn’t have much depth beyond simply having a family. That depth is not enough to sustain the emotional pull of the disaster scenario, particularly given the fact that the other characters aboard the rig are even less well-developed. Strangest of all is John Malkovich, who has an alarmingly cartoonish Cajun drawl that marks him out as a villain from the first moment he appears.
Berg mounts the action sequences with visual panache and impressive brutality. Like the great disaster movie helmsmen before him, Berg knows that the money is in depicting the carnage in visceral, spectacular fashion. Unfortunately, it takes far too long for this to begin, with the movie’s first act packed full to the brim with impenetrable technical jargon that presumably was mandated by a legal team determined not to fall foul of expensive litigation from the oil company at the heart of the issue.
Deepwater Horizon mostly manages to swerve the standard ‘American hero’ story it could so easily have told. The patriotism is dialled down for the most part, with the horrors of the flames taking centre stage, but the jingoism that so often plagues these movies occasionally rises to the surface and threatens to swallow the film whole. When it focuses on the people, though, this is a film that packs a solid punch.
Pop or Poop?
With a little bit more focus on characters over technical lingo, Deepwater Horizon could have been the first great disaster movie in years. What it is, however, is a thinly written effects-fest that conveys the carnage very well, but completely ignores the truly horrifying aftermath of one of the worst industrial disasters in American history.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.