On April 20, 2010 the worst oil rig crisis and spill in American history happened in Louisiana on the Deepwater Horizon. Eleven workers died. 115 people on that rig struggled to survive. For the next 87 days, oil flowed uncontrollably into the Gulf Of Mexico. Since it was ruled to be responsible in 2014, BP has paid out billions in penalties, settlements and clean-up. Now, six years later, Hollywood is having its say with director Peter Berg’s straight-laced disaster movie based on the true story.
As I say in my video review above, there is definitely a compelling, fascinating movie to be made from all of this — and then there is the one that Berg made. This is not to say that he’s crafted a Deepwater Horizon angle that won’t be successful; audiences love to see explosions — lots of them — especially in Imax. Deepwater Horizon delivers on that fully in the film’s second half, when it seems to be full of relentless blowouts, lots of fireworks and people diving for their lives. The first half is fairly insufferable, however, with the filmmakers — including screenwriters Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan — seemingly intent on showing just how well they have learned all the technical jargon you might hear spoken on an oil rig. The dialogue is so rigid and nerdy you would need a companion glossary just to follow any of it.
The TV marketing has been playing up Kate Hudson’s role as concerned wife to Mark Wahlberg’s heroic lead character Mike Williams, who did everything he could to save lives and prevent an even bigger disaster thanks to his extreme knowledge of the rig and its inner-workings. The attempt to show their relationship gives it all an extra emotional element probably meant to lure female moviegoers, but really she is in it mostly for worried reaction shots at home watching it unfold on TV.
Although it seems Berg is going for a film with the feel of an authentic docu-drama, what he has essentially come up with is a not-so-distant cousin to ’70s Irwin Allen disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure and especially The Towering Inferno. Berg is a competent director of action who mixes deep emotion and visceral scenes that feel like a punch to the gut. He did this relentlessly in the superior Afghan war drama Lone Survivor and returns to that playbook here in many ways. Somehow though, despite the weight of this tragedy we all remember so well, I felt at a distance watching Deepwater Horizon unfold — somewhere along the way the human story became overwhelmed by the effects. The “disaster” part of it is so drawn out that when it is announced at the end that 11 people died, I thought that was a small number compared to the nonstop carnage on display. In Lone Survivor, the most powerful moment in the film comes in a coda at the end saluting the real men who died.
Wahlberg, as he was in Lone Survivor and presumably will be in the Boston Marathon bombing movie he and Berg have coming out at Christmas, is a stoic and dedicated hero figure as Williams. He knows how to make this stuff work on screen. Other key roles are nicely played by veteran Kurt Russell as Jimmy Harrell, who managed some of this operation; John Malkovich as Donald Vidrine, the BP executive at the center of things; and particularly by spunky and spirited Gina Rodriguez as the Bridge Officer Andrea Freytus. Technical contributions are first rate all around as you might expect.
I am not the sort of critic who reviews a film that isn’t there, and I won’t start here except to say I would be very interested in seeing this from another angle, that of how political considerations caused this to happen and the aftermath involving BP’s fight to rescue its image. But then again that kind of movie probably wouldn’t get the Imax bookings. Berg made the movie he set out to make, one that charts what happened on that day April 20, 2010. For some moviegoers, that will be all they want or need. Producers are Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian and David Womark. Participant Media and Summit Entertainment are the key production companies with Lionsgate releasing this Friday.
Do you plan to see Deepwater Horizon? Let us know what you think.