In a time of films filled with forced product placement and brand exposure it is incredibly refreshing to see a huge, multi-national corporation attacked in a strong, but not over empowering way. Director Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon is an extremely well-crafted and tense film with some seriously scathing indictments of the controversial oil company BP. Do not be fooled into thinking that this a mindless action film in the vein of Michael Bay, this is well-written and technically expert film. Sometimes a trailer really doesn’t sell the final product well enough.
The film tells the story of the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, on which a major incident occurs leading to the BP oil spill disaster of 2010. But rather than just focusing on the explosions and acts of heroism from the men and woman aboard the rig, the film also takes its time to explore the reasons behind the accident and the decisions that were taken that led to the deaths of 11 men. Mark Wahlberg stars as engineer Mike Williams, who leaves his wife and daughter to work on the rig in the Gulf of Mexico. However, once he arrives he gets caught up in heated tension between head engineer Kurt Russell and visiting BP executives, led by the ruthless and sleazy John Malkovich. Indifferent and cold towards the complaints of defective equipment and incomplete safety checks, the BP officials insist that work starts, despite the protests of the men on board. Of course, serious issues are found and soon the rig becomes a flaming beacon in the middle of the ocean, with the men and women on board fighting for their lives.
“peter berg is a director that has blossomed in recent years”
Peter Berg is a director that has blossomed in recent years after some questionable additions to his CV. He followed the repugnant Battleships with 2014’s forgotten gem Lone Survivor, a brutal and harrowing true story of four Navy SEALs attempting to survive deep in Taliban territory. However, one major criticism has been Berg’s tendency to be too heavy handed in his approach to patriotism and themes of injustice. Thankfully, Berg has restrained himself here and finds the perfect balance between criticism of BP executives, and the ‘average joe’ heroism that all too often fall into cliché.
John Malkovich is electric as one of the BP bosses, not award worthy by any stretch of the imagination, but he and the film in general portray a real sense of accountability and blame without subverting to clichéd villains. In fact, Berg purposefully doesn’t allow any blame to come from his characters, but rather the audience in a refreshing and welcome move.
“there is a clear and real sense of comradery between all those on board the rig”
By far the best aspect of this film is its opening act, which is by no means a criticism of the rest of the film. Wahlberg’s family are introduced briefly, yet you relate and care for them. There is a great expository scene in which key elements of the rig are explained using the daughter’s school project. Once on the rig, the dialogue is tight and tense throughout, even if the thick Southern accents do make it difficult to understand at times. There is a clear and real sense of comradery between all those on board the rig whilst remaining real and grounded. Kurt Russel is great as the no-nonsense lead engineer and his exchanges with the BP execs are edgy and you feel the thick atmosphere oozing through the screen.
Once the action gets going, it doesn’t hold up for a moment. Berg’s direction is fabulous here, it’s gritty and real but still retains its impact. The shots are shaky and chaotic but it feel very much in line with the chaos of the action. Things happen with no warning and when you don’t expect them. Technically, it’s masterfully constructed but with a focus on humanity that brings moments of real tragedy . This film is ostensibly a tribute to those that died, and like the end of Lone Survivor there is a heart-warming montage of those that did not make it off the rig, even if the accompanying music is a tad clumsy.
“it will give you something to think about on the way home”
Wahlberg is the big name in front of the likes of Russell and Malkovich and for me, it is his best performance since The Departed. He sells his role as the action hero but also brings an added layer of emotional heft that comes very late in the film and really surprises.
In short, Deepwater Horizon is very much in keeping with Lone Survivor as a solid action thriller with good performances and even better action. It is certainly not going to have the long-term emotional impact of Titanic, but as biting attack on corporate greed, it will give you something to think about on the way home.