An earnest tribute to the men who lost their lives and a solid rebuke to those who were responsible.
When you consider the conventional response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, that incredibly impassioned, worldwide environmental outrage, you almost feel like director Peter Berg accepted his latest film as a dare.
“Hey, Pete - here’s one for ya. You know that Deepwater thing that happened back in 2010? Worst oil disaster in US history? 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico? 11 workers killed. 167,000 sea turtles killed. 2-5 million fish wiped out and a $100 billion company doing everything it could to avoid liability? Yeah, well…make that an uplifting story”.
Impressively, and to Berg’s credit, he’s done a more than solid job of it. Deepwater Horizon finds its heart by telling the story of the ‘roughnecks’ who kept it running right until it didn’t anymore: the engineers, the riggers, the crane operators and the cleaners. BP executives feature too, but you’d better believe they’re the bad guys, especially in the eyes of the Deepwater team. Penny-pinching, short-cutting and regulation-bending, the BP/ Transocean head honchos (led by John Malkovich) come across like comic book villains, delivering silver-tongued insults and commanding unyielding demands of their subordinates through toothy, moustachioed grins and deep south Louisiana drawls. Put another way, were Deepwater Horizon a cartoon, Foghorn Leghorn would be the first one cast (“I say, I say, I say, I do protest sir that this here rig be nigh on 43 days past delivery date, yiiiih-ha!!”)
Squaring up against the suits is a solid ensemble cast of (mostly) believable hard-arses and hillbillies from the Transocean team that ran the Deepwater rig despite its constant malfunctioning. At the helm, Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, a straight-talking electronics technician, husband (to Kate Hudson) and father who tells his buddies how to fix their cars and his superiors how to fix their floating oil station. Alongside his boss Mr Jimmy (Kurt Russell), Williams has no difficulty in seeing that BP’s determination to complete the drilling project and advance to the next well site as quickly as possible puts at risk not just the oil reserve but all the crew members responsible for drilling it. And that, in its frustratingly simplified explanation, is why that which happened next, happened at all: greed and gross negligence.
We say frustrating, because in Deepwater Horizon there existed an opportunity to delve deep into the specifics of what precipitated the massive blow-out and subsequent explosion on that fateful evening, yet the film (based on the New York Times article “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours”) rarely advances beyond repeated mentions of a ‘cement bond log test’ not being performed. Berg’s focus is clear from the beginning: this is a human story centred on a very specific couple of hours from within a much larger story, and what it lacks in narrative depth, it does its best to make up for in action.
Deepwater Horizon is impressively intense. As with any real-world disaster movie, the forgone cataclysmic conclusion endows it with inherited suspense, meaning Berg’s job (not unlike his subject matter) is to simply build the pressure until its explosive release can be held no longer, and it’s a full hour before we get there. As with the recent-released Sully, Berg’s patience in delivering his heart-thumping disaster moment means its eventual arrival is almost overwhelming, aptly showcasing the horrors endured by those on board the and the heroism of some that saw so many others survive. Deepwater Horizon ultimately resonates more than one might have expected for a film of this type and subject matter, offering at once an earnest tribute to the men who lost their lives and a solid rebuke to those who were responsible.