In 2010 the worst maritime oil spill ever took place in the Gulf Of Mexico, after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. At the time, the media was so fixated on the oil that it was easy to overlook the fact that the initial disaster on Deepwater Horizon was truly cataclysmic and resulted in the deaths of 11 people.
Peter Berg’s movie sets out to redress the balance somewhat, depicting what happened on the platform and the horrific events the survivors endured.
The central character is Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), who leaves his family at home as he heads back to Deepwater Horizon to work. Oil company BP is desperate to bring the drilling phase to a close so the platform can move to another location, and as a result they aren’t keen to run the full battery of tests to ensure everything is safe with the current operations. Even with the tests they do conduct, the suits try to find ways to say that anomalous readings aren’t really a problem.
However, things aren’t okay, with a series of problems resulting in a blowout, which initially sees vast plumes of heavy mud and oil exploding out of the sea and across the platform, before dangerous gases ignite and turn the entire rig into an enormous fireball, killing some instantly and endangering the lives of everyone else.
It’s a movie that could easily have seemed exploitative of such a recent tragedy, but as Berg has shown in the likes of Lone Survivor and Patriots Day, he has a knack for taking real-life events and carefully balancing mainstream sensibilities with a genuine respect for the source material and for the real people involved. Likewise, the movie could have virtually ignored the oil workers just so it could score political points by bashing BP and multinational oil companies in general, but while it certainly suggests the company was massively culpable, it never loses focus on the people BP should particularly feel culpable to.
The basic structure of the movie is pretty standard, from a slightly schmaltzy familial bliss opening, through showing us the events leading up to the tragedy, and one to the hellish events when things starts exploding. However, although the way its plotted we’ve seen 100s of times before, its handled extremely well, building tension for the first 40 minutes, until the disaster unfolds and we’re shown what happens almost in real time. By keeping its eyes fixed on the people and quite how something so terrible could happen, it doesn’t ever feel hackneyed. Oddly, it’s helped on this score by taking quite a few cues from how James Cameron handled maritime disaster in Titanic, but without the romantic melodrama of that movie.
Wahlberg is good in the central role, proving again that he’s best when displaying his everyman credentials. He’s backed up by a good turn from Kurt Russell,as well as Gina Rodriguez, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee and Dyland O’Brien (with the last two, you have to wonder if they had a bigger role in the original script, as they get very little screentime).
‘Pulse-pounding’ is one of those horrifically over-used phrases, but it’s an apt one here. Even when John Malkovich is sliming around as a BP exec who’s presented as a bit of a pantomime villain (although to be fair, the man he’s based on was an epic asshole who should feel horrifically guilty for the rest of his days), there’s still a sense of reality about it, largely because it genuinely cares about the people involved, never treating them as a means to an end for cheap melodrama to go in between the special effects. Indeed, it’s telling that the most powerful moment is a comparatively simple scene between a man, his wife and their child.
When the special effects do come in, they are spectacular but they’re used in service of the film, to show just what a horrific situation the crew of Deepwater Horizon were faced with. Sadly though, the movie wasn’t a massive success at the box office, but hopefully it’ll find new audiences in the home, as it’s a good film both as action cinema and as a character drama about survival against terrible odds.
Overall Verdict: A superior disaster movie that builds tension before letting rip when the explosions starts, but never forgetting that this is about the people caught up in come truly terrible events.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac
‘Captain Of The Rig: Peter Berg’ Featurette
‘The Fury Of The Rig’ Documentary
‘Deepwater Surveillance’ Featurette