Deepwater Horizon (2016) review
A Disaster Film Dripping with Human Emotion
After last year’s Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon is the second time actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg have worked together on a film. Based on The New York Times’ article Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours written by David Barstow, David S. Rohde, and Stephanie Saul which chronicled the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploding in 2010; the largest oil spill in history. The offshore drilling rig is drilling 41 miles from the Louisiana coast while drilling at the bottom of the Gulf coast of Mexico.
While the biographical disaster film prominently features the oil rig disaster, Deepwater Horizon takes the Sully approach and is much more human and genuine than it lets on. The trailers reveal nearly the entire film, so try to avoid them the best you can if at all possible. Speaking of Sully, Deepwater Horizon also begins with a bird strike that is utilized as a bad omen for the events that are about to unfold.
The film begins with Mike Williams (Wahlberg), Mr. Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), and Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) arriving on the Deepwater Horizon via helicopter as the Schlumberger team is leaving. It’s soon discovered that the Schlumberger team has left without testing the cement that would solidify the rig to the ocean floor for stable drilling. It turns out that BP is cutting corners despite the fact that they’re a $186 billion company. BP executive Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) is constantly butting heads with Jimmy Harrell over tests and maintenance needed to keep the rig a safe working environment but all BP can see is dollar signs.
Deepwater Horizon never tries to be something that it isn’t. It labels itself as an intense disaster film with plenty of thrills and it provides just that. Mark Wahlberg’s performance is impressive and quite possibly one of his best. He shows a considerable amount of emotion over the course of 107 minutes and handles the harsh transitions from loving father and husband to valued oil rig technician to the person responsible for many of his co-workers still being alive today with a stoic determination. Wahlberg portrays knowledge, experience, and compassion to an extent that he hasn’t been able to showcase in the silly R-rated comedies and enormous action blockbusters he's usually a part of.
Another perfect casting choice is John Malkovich. Armed with a thick Louisiana accent, Malkovich has a knack for portraying slimy and villainous characters to succulent perfection. Vidrine strives to push people's buttons and how to back up his desired actions with angry bullying tactics. Malkovich knows how to give life to despicable characters. Even when things don’t go his way, Malkovich’s facial expressions and body language retreat in a way that highlights his character’s weak and cowardly demeanor. Vidrine is basically Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe: gloats when things go his way, but tries to hide within himself when his actions are wrong.
With a screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War Z) and Matthew Sand (Ninja Assassin), Deepwater Horizon has a method of showing the audience just how unstable the oil rig is throughout the film. The camera is consistently diving to the bottom of the ocean to capture and display the effects of each negative pressure test as mud struggles to pump through the pipeline like a vein with a clogged artery.
The unfortunate aspect of Deepwater Horizon is that it’s so predictable. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the 2010 event it’s based on or avoid the marketing for the film altogether, the film has little when it comes to catching you off guard. The disaster itself is awe-inspiring and is executed as catastrophic pandemonium, but the storyline is extremely formulaic and is similar to just about every other disaster film out there; even casting Mark Wahlberg as the protagonist and John Malkovich as the antagonist seems cliché and familiar. Labeling BP as a nefarious organization isn't exactly out of left field either.
Even though Deepwater Horizon may be a disaster film that lacks any sort of unique qualities, it makes full use of the disaster film formula and provides plenty of exciting sequences to effectively please the average moviegoer. The bravery of the crew unleashes this naturally tender quality in the film that is purely benevolent and latches onto every sympathetic fiber in your body. The passionate performances of Mark Wahlberg and John Malkovich make what would be a lackluster disaster film totally worthwhile.