Deepwater Horizon is unofficially the second film in the trilogy of biopic disaster series by Peter Berg. The first being Lone Survivor in 2013, and finishing with Patriots Day at the end of 2016. The style of direction employed in this film is highly reminiscent to the one Berg used in Lone Survivor in the sense of its parts. Essentially, he introduces us to the likable main characters, he gets down to the nitty-gritty technical aspects of the job they’re going to carry out and then literally everything which had a slither of chance to fail, failed and we watch the disaster develop. A simple enough concept and it does work on most occasions. Although the total destruction of the rig was terrifyingly effective throughout, I can see the film putting people off with its onslaught of verbal diarrhoea in the first half which was a bore for me.
On April 20, 2010, a devastating tragedy struck an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 crewmen on board and causing the largest oil spill disaster in U.S history. Deepwater Horizon documents the story of how it all went wrong on that fateful day and at the same time, honouring the unflinching bravery of the men and women on board who risked their lives in the face of death for the sake of the safety of others . But before the calamity strikes, we meet the hardened veterans of the industry, Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and Jimmy “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell) who are supported by Mike’s wife, Felicia Williams (Kate Hudson) and a deplorable BP executive (John Malkovich).
If you were actually old enough six years ago to care about what was on the news, the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig didn’t seem like it was ‘the largest environmental disaster in U.S history’. After all, what people saw on TV was literally just the outside of the oil rig being licked by the sea of flames. Nothing was shown on what was unfolding on the inside. Deepwater Horizon does an impressive job justifying the massive scale of this manmade misadventure by very realistically portraying the total, uninterrupted shitstorm which was ensuing on the inside of the rig. The $156 million budget was clearly put to good use as the sheer intensity of the explosions really made us awe inspired at what the courageous crew members did and had to go through to ensure that everyone got off safely. It certainly left the audience with the unanimous question of how in the holy hell did anyone survive that. When the oil rig exploded, I really thought everyone on board died and it was the end of the show.
I said at the start that the execution of Deepwater Horizon and Lone Survivor is virtually identical. But does that mean you will necessarily like Deepwater Horizon if you enjoyed Lone Survivor? The answer is no. The difference comes in when the film starts to prepare us for the job of drilling the ocean floor for oil and in the case of Lone Survivor, the operation of killing terrorists. Unlike Lone Survivor, where we are already so familiar with the military jargons, who the Navy SEALS are and what they do, the idea of working on the oil rig is rare to say the least and how they carry out their job is unknown to the common man. With that being said, an extreme degree of technical dialogue was present in the first half of the show and it made me not enjoy it as much as I wanted to. There was so much of back and forth banter and chit-chat about PSI, the different levels and tests for all the sections of contraption that I was just left mind boggled, struggling to piece together all the information being bombarded to me on the spot. If we actually knew what the crew members were arguing over, the crisis over the dangers of failure would be clearer and we would be worried sick for the lives of the characters right from the beginning rather than when wait till shit starts hitting the fan.
Usually when I leave the theatre after witnessing a great cinematic true story unfold, I will search and read up more about the actual incident which took place and I did exactly that. The thought-provoking bit of the film comes after you walk out; to know whether the movie got its facts right and most noticeably, whether those villainous BP executives had indeed forced the crewmen to proceed in its operations in spite of safety precautions. However, the film could have dug deeper into the impacts of the catastrophe and investigated the BP situation in a more meaningful way instead of just throwing them under the bus.
I think it is safe to say now that a Peter Berg biopic film with American casualties won’t be complete without glimpses of patriotism. The fluttering of the star-studded banner in front of the blazing doom and the oh so subtle Lord’s Prayer to the brave men and women who lost their lives are just some of the gimmicks he incorporates. Nevertheless, for something which had a disorientating basis and paper-thin characters not resonate with me, it is still an entertaining and heart wrenching experience to sit through.
Directed by: Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Battleship, Hancock)
Screenplay by: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Matthew Sand
Based on: Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours by David Barstow, Daniel Rohde and Stephanie Saul
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson
Running time: 107 minutes