Directed by Peter Berg, starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson and Dylan O’Brien. Based on the events of the 2010 oil spill when the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, causing one of the worst oil spills in American history.
This is the second collaboration between Wahlberg and Berg, the first being the 2013 film ‘Lone Survivor’ which I for one thoroughly enjoyed. So why then was I filled with apprehension at the thought of watching ‘Deepwater Horizon’? Perhaps it reminded me too much of ‘Armageddon’ as there aren’t that many films I have watched which are based on offshore oil rig. Or perhaps it was because of the absolutely cataclysmic film ‘Battleship’, another film set out at sea directed by Berg. Or maybe, just maybe, my low expectations were owing to Mark Walhberg, who though very intense at times, I’ve never been able to quite warm to as an actor nor as a person, based on some of the truly irritating comments he has had made in the past.
Never the less, films like ‘Long Survivor’ and ‘Deepwater Horizon’, really do seem to bring out the best in both men creatively. They seem to really understand how to turn true events into blockbuster actions films, that do not feel cumbersome, nor do they feel overtly cheesy and long. They are able to fully comprehend human struggle and determination without prolonging it, without having any frustrating film tropes or gimmicks that remove you from the experience, creating a natural environment. Though having the director appear on a helipad attempting to incoherently have a conversation next to a Helicopter that is about to take off is jarring and unnecessary.
On the subject of the director, there’s a definite ‘Friday Night Light’s’ feel to this film. For those who are unaware, ‘Friday Night Lights’ was a TV show that Berg produced and directed a few episodes of, which focused on College Football in Texas. The opening of the series showed the newly appointed Coach driving through Texas, with the radio playing against the backdrop of music while the camera moved between interior shots of the car and as well as exterior shots of Texas. For those who have watched, you can understand there’s something very specific about the tone and feel that it produces, that feeling of realism and grounded reality of ordinary lives trying to accomplish something much larger than themselves. This theme is mirrored in ‘Deepwater Horizon’ quite effectively.
Now, I cannot speak on your behalf, but my own knowledge of offshore oil rigs is primitive at best and at worst probably greatly misunderstood, and I don’t imagine I am the only one. There is, of course, a level of technical language and terminology that the majority of the audience is not going to comprehend regarding offshore oil rigs unless it’s your field of expertise of course. I understood the overall meaning of each scene, but what was refreshing was that there were no moments of exposition to allow the audience to catch up. Yes, there were moments where you’re not entirely sure what certain numbers mean, and whether a particular meter reading is good or bad, but it is the sign of a carefully written script not to assume your audience are incapable of understanding the subject the film is based on. By writing a script that assumes the audience is intelligent enough to piece together what is happening, without hitting us over the head with someone slowly reading Oil Rigs for dummies, is something I don’t think a lot of filmmakers appreciate or utilise.
The cast is particularly important with this style of film, you need that sense of community between the main protagonists in order for a feeling of realism and comradeship to be established early, so that when everything does go horribly wrong, you, in turn, feel for each character. And that there is a believable feeling that they do all care for one another. Particularly when the story is so self-contained within the Oil Rig, in cinematically pleasing chaos. Though Mark Wahlberg is the leading protagonist with a focus on his family, he is not the leader of the pack, which I for one found quite refreshing. That role is given to Kurt Russell, who provides an intense and powerful performance when required. Even smaller roles such as Dylan O’Brien’s aptly nicknamed ‘Hollywood’, are provided with enough characterisation that it enables you to care for each member working on the rig. You really do get this great sense of community and strong bonds between those who work there and who are on the same side.
The spectacle of events that begins once everything starts going wrong is really quite impressive to behold. There is no need to be overly dramatic because I can quite easily imagine that how events unfolded in the film are quite realistic to what actually happened, though perhaps not as many American flags survived in the blaze. I for one was totally gripped by the entire experience and found myself very moved by many of the very realistic human reactions which provided a grounding for a film set in utter chaos.
Those individuals whom this film is based upon must be incredibly happy with how this film was cast. The people who actually lived through this horrific event are shown at the very end of the film, and they look like ordinary people, but I have to say they have been given a certain Hollywood style upgrade with the cast.
OVERALL *** Once again, Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg work exceptionally well together. They take a very human approach to a very well contained story, one that becomes emotionally gripping and fantastic to watch. Their next collaboration will focus on the Boston Marathon bombers, which is sure to be a fantastic film, and interesting to witness a different style.
RECOMMENDATION – I would highly recommend this film, it’s gripping and intelligent in its own way. More of films of this calibre should be made rather than those overtly nonsensical ones such as San Andreas.