“Never hurts to run a test.”
Deepwater Horizon starts with a bang. Not literally – plenty of those are saved for later. The screen is black as we listen to real testimony from survivor Mike Williams, here portrayed by the ever surprising Mark Wahlberg. Williams recollects what happened on that fateful day – the worst oil spill in mankind’s history on the biggest rig ever built – and by taking this route, director Peter Berg injects a sense of hopeful optimism meant to spread through our veins before showing us the death and disaster we know is to follow. Ultimately, the choice serves as a vaccine introducing us to the ruination as well as being an antidote to the loss of life and destruction of our environment. Future true stories need to take note; Deepwater Horizon’s homage exists in the comfort zone between exploitation and exultation. Its emotions are real, and they are felt.
Mike Williams (Wahlberg) preps himself for another 3 week stint out at sea. Working as an electronics technician, he’ll be miles upon miles off the coast on the titular oil guzzler. He leaves behind wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and daughter Sydney (Stella Allen). Thankfully they’re written as his cohorts rather than his constituents, which are what female family roles are typically relegated to in big budget movies such as this. Once on board, he chums it up with their leader Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), a man whose entire being can be summed up by his crew calling him “Mr. Jimmy” in a playful manner. We also follow Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), the ship’s operator, along with deckhand Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien). Deepwater Horizon could have honed in on Wahlberg – which it does a tad too much in the third act – but it also spreads the wealth of opportunity to be had in every direction.
The Deepwater Horizon rig becomes a towering man-made iceberg of sorts. Aerial shots show its isolating tip; underwater currents bubbling at the Earth’s crust clue us into the impending doom. Pressure on the pipe gradually looks up as the crew’s fate looks down. And Berg does all of this for a reason. By making Deepwater Horizon so piecemeal in its slow build – full of lingo and shots we can’t fully understand – Berg still shows us information, through words and pictures, that we otherwise would never encounter. That alone is the film’s most crucial and understated counterpart. There’s authenticity abound, and while I didn’t comprehend the scientific facts to a tee, that very same authenticity pouring out from these performances and from these staggering sets held me in an unsettling, at times infuriating state of disbelief. Disaster movies typically feel too much like movies. Despite some obvious CGI during the big sequences, I don’t think Deepwater Horizon could have come any closer to mirroring life itself. The set designs and sound editing are worthy of awards recognition.
Some might think this story to be safe, but I for one was happy to see that Berg didn’t try to make a film about defacing BP; anyone with local news or a computer should know their sins by now. And so this is a film by the people and for the people involved. Perhaps that explains the humanism throughout, the chief aspect confronted by oil man Vidrine (John Malkkovich, again showing his mastery of the art). Vidrine reminds us that where money and faith and country are involved, so too are politics. Yet conforming to the left or the right is of no apparent concern for Berg. He may seem a little nationalistic at times, but his film never veers towards hero worship in the vain of the centerfold that was Sully earlier this year. These are everyday, working class, regular Joes who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We see why they were there, the greed behind the decisions, and their joint effort to escape unscathed. It’s imperfect but never imprecise, impractical while not inaccurate. Deepwater Horizon manages to boil your blood whilst softening your heart to the tune of fellowship and oil fueled flare-ups, backed by credits which ask us to let this one burn long before being extinguished. I sincerely hope you watch the embers cool.
“Hope ain’t a tactic.”
Rating: 4 out of 5