Dramatising the real-life events of April 2010, Deepwater Horizon chronicles the days leading up to, and including, the devastating explosion on the massive oil rig.
Mark Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams, the Chief Engineer of the titular rig. Flying over from land with his crew and Operational Supervisor Jimmy Harrell (effortlessly played by veteran Kurt Russell), they sense something is amiss from the moment they step aboard. But the sheer extent of the issues don’t come to light until it’s much too late, and the catalogue of faults trigger a catastrophic series of failures and explosions, resulting in the worst environmental disaster in US history.
Taking its time to get to know the ins and outs of the Deepwater Horizon rig itself, it’s a smart move by director Peter Berg and screenwriters Matthew Sand and Matthew Carnahan. By doing so, we get a small but vital idea as to how fragile and important each and every piece of machinery is to the safe operation of the rig.
Not that it matters too much to BP executive (John Malkovich) though: the character is the epitome of the ignorance of ‘higher-up’ management. It’s a figure which could, and frequently does, apply to almost every workplace – senior bosses who have never got their hands dirty, yet seem to think they have all the answers. And while it’s not quite the same as, say, a crew member from McDonalds and their manager who asks them to recite a robotic sounding script to each and every customer, the principle remains the same.
It’s the confrontations between Malkovich and Russell which elevate Deepwater Horizon too. Both seem to be enjoying a small resurgence in the twilight of their careers, yet haven’t missed a beat. It’s no stretch to claim that it’s these two who really make the film memorable. Wahlberg, who teamed with Berg in 2013’s macho-actioner Lone Survivor, comfortably plays ‘average joe’ Mike Williams, but doesn’t really seem stretched in the role. Nonetheless, it’s enough to make us care, which is just as well: there’s the obligatory love story thrown in there, with the lovely Kate Hudson as the helpless, still-at-home wife of Williams.
Much like the pressure in the pipes, tension builds to an unbearable level before all hell breaks loose. Cutting back and forth from dialogue heavy interactions and crew concerns to admittedly sketchy CGI of struggling underwater pipes, Berg makes us wait for the inevitable. The fiery scenes, and there’s a lot in the last 30 minutes, are nothing short of incredible. The carnage is relentless, with a seemingly endless barrage of explosions as Wahlberg ducks and dodges the perils thrown at him. The order to replicate the majority of the rig in an abandoned Amusement Park in New Orleans was a wise one: the sequences feel far more intense as a result.
Probably most importantly though, Deepwater Horizon never feels like it’s exploiting the disaster, nor being made simply because it would make a good action movie. As for culpability, the finger of blame is firmly pointed at BP (who unsurprisingly gave the film a scathing review), but there’s a few occasions where we’re made to feel partly responsible due to our unquenchable thirst for oil. And while it doesn’t really ask any questions in regards to how to stop this kind of thing from happening again, it will serve as a stark reminder of humanities effect on earth.