Deepwater Horizon

This dramatization of the 2010 catastrophe on the titular oil rig also chronicles the 12 hours leading up to what became a colossal man-made disaster.

Year: 2016
Certificate: 12
Director: Peter Berg
Starring: John Malkovich, Mark Wahlberg, Peter Berg, Kurt Russell, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, Ethan Suplee, Kate Hudson, Joe Chrest, Trace Adkins, Brad Leland, Dylan O’Brien, Douglas M. Griffin, James DuMont

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“Deepwater Horizon” is a real life disaster movie centred on the devastating explosion of the titular BP oil rig in 2010, which led to the worst oil spill in US history. Director Peter Berg translates this tragic event in a simplistic fashion, but his technical proficiency and narrative efficiency drill to the core of the compelling horrors of the event.

Mark Wahlberg is the movie star at the centre of it all, playing Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams, but the film avoids the one-man show favoured by Hollywood. Instead, Mike works alongside the likes of Kurt Russell’s rig supervisor and Gina Rodriguez’s navigation officer to save as many of their colleagues as they can. Belying his tough guy reputation, Wahlberg’s performance is notable for the emotional depths he mines. He’s not afraid to be vulnerable, scared or confused.

The same can be said for the film. As expected, when the oil hits the fan, the film becomes an all out visual effects spectacle; however, Berg manages the cinematic tone to ensure the action never feels glorified or exploitative. Despite the 12-certificate, the entirety of the second act is immensely intense, traumatic even; and, while blood doesn’t drench the walls, injury details are excruciating. This is heightened by the tactility of the sets and the impressive special effects work. For all the roaring CGI fires, explosions are made wince inducing by the dirt and debris flung at our heroes.

This is despite the fact that the film fails to make it clear exactly what’s going wrong at each stage and why. Because all of these characters are at least semi-cognisant of the science of drilling for oil, there’s no real audience surrogate character who we can learn things through. Brief on-screen text is used as an attempt to keep viewers up-to-date, but, when the camera drops down to the sea floor or through the pipes, my comprehension was limited to “I suppose that’s a bad sign”. The CG work in these shots is also muddy and indistinct, which doesn’t help, and is at odds with the impressive visuals above the water.

Images of thick oil geysering from the earth will forever be associated with America, but Berg makes the choice to keep the wider political allusions subtle. Even the BP behemoth is concentrated to John Malkovich’s Donald Vidrine and his associate. It’s not that it’s ever unclear where the film’s pointing its finger, but to focus on the heroes, rather than the villains, is a rousingly humanistic approach; and, in a world where this isn’t a dirty word, a patriotic one.

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About Benedict

Freelance culture journalist and Film Studies graduate. Netflix is his happy place.

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