Deepwater Horizon


★★★

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, & Dylan O'Brien Film Review by Kieran Freemantle


With films like Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor and the upcoming Patriots Day to his credit, Peter Berg has developed a reputation for adapting true stories that especially appeal to American audiences and Deepwater Horizon continues down that same route.

On April 20, 2010 a blowout and series of explosions happen on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the death of 11 workers and one of the biggest environmental disasters in American history. The film adaptation looks at the mistakes and corporate pressures that led to the disaster and the heroism of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and Caleb Holloway (Dylan O'Brien) who put their own lives at risk to save others.

Deepwater Horizon is a film of two halves: the first being the clash between Donald "Don" Vidrine (John Malkovich) who is representing BP and wants to rush exploration, while Jimmy "Mr. Jimmy" Harrell (Kurt Russell) is worried about the safety risks and does everything he can to ensure the executives do not cut corners. The second half is where the disaster actually happens and Wahlberg and O'Brien play a major role in rescuing people.

Deepwater Horizon is similar to Tony Scott's final film Unstoppable - both are disaster films based on true stories (although Unstoppable was a loose adaptation) - focusing on smart blue-collar workers in the middle of an extraordinary situation and has a sub-plot with a negligent corporation. Both films are solid if workman-like movies and they even share an actor - My Name is Earl's Ethan Suplee - although Suplee's character in Deepwater Horizon is more competent.


The film goes into immense detail regarding the drilling process and the background into what was going on: the previous crew rushed their part of the operation with BP applying pressure because they were 43 days behind schedule - thus affecting the bottom line. The film is meticulous with its breakdown of every decision - showing how the men (and women) on the ground were seeing the mistakes being made. When the characters explain what's happening and what went wrong it felt like you would need to be an oil rig worker to fully understand what they are saying. There is an authenticity as to how the men operate on the rig showing that they have been working together for years with all their jokes and banter. However, the screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand were too keen to use foreshadowing - like Williams' daughter doing a demonstration with a can of coke and Mr. Jimmy asking an executive going to the rig to take off his tie because the colour was bad luck - it's heavy handed for a story that most audience members would have at least some knowledge about.

When the disaster does strike it turns Deepwater Horizon into Titanic – without the romance. This was when the workers had to fight against the gushing mud and oil that is so powerful that it forces workers into the walls and windows. The best part of the disaster is that there is no sanitising of the impact of the disaster. For a film that has a 12A rating it has some intense moments because of some of the injuries the workers suffered. However, the fire took place at night which caused logistical problems filming which the crew struggled to overcome because some of the scenes were shot in the dark with fire in the background.

Mark Wahlberg produced Deepwater Horizon as well starring in the lead role. Like his role in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Wahlberg is playing a Southern character yet keeps his Boston accent. Wahlberg did not look much like the real life Mike Williams but despite these issues he is still able to play a hard-working Joe who was pushed to extremes. Russell was also notable as the grizzled head of safety and Malkovich is able to play a villain in his sleep - so convinces as the tight-fisted company man.

Deepwater Horizon has an authentic air when showing the people working on the rig and their working relationships, but it is a story that is stretched thin - lacking characterisation and suffers from some ham-fisted writing: thus preventing it becoming a great true-life disaster film.

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