By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 8 out of 10
After releasing Hancock, who knew that Peter Berg was a fantastic filmmaker? Lone Survivor was an incredibly tense and emotional story surrounding Operation Red Wings’ failed mission in Afghanistan, and with Patriot’s Day on the horizon, it’s time to take a look back to the second movie of Berg’s “American Trilogy”, Deepwater Horizon. Focusing on the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, Deepwater Horizon feels real from beginning to end, anchored by a phenomenal performance by Mark Wahlberg and incredible third act that will stick with you long after departing the cinema.
Mike Williams (Wahlberg) is the head electrical technician on Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig stationed miles off of the Gulf of Mexico. Drilling into a weakening foundation, the rig soon experiences a catastrophic blowout, which cripples Deepwater Horizon and forces the crew to fight for survival amidst the burning wreckage.
Although Berg handles all of these recent historical milestones with great care, it’s hard to see this movie without the disaster still feeling fresh in your mind. Although six years has passed since the spill, watching Deepwater Horizon burn in the gulf makes you ponder if 2016 is the right time to release this film.
This debate has been a constant over the last 10 years, beginning with United 93 and World Trade Center, a pair of films released five years after the 9/11 attacks, and while both films, United 93 in particular, were incredibly powerful tributes to the victims, they were both incredibly hard to watch without wondering whether too much time had eclipsed before placing such a national tragedy into an medium used for entertainment.
Regardless, Deepwater Horizon disaster is breathtaking, mainly due to Berg’s past as an action director. From the moment that the blowout occurs, the movie sprints to the finish line, with a third act that moves at breakneck pace and intensity while the survivors of the blowout fight for their lives. Visually, the film is incredible, especially during the blowout scene. The initial explosion of Deepwater Horizon will take your breath away, the culmination of an absolutely amazing sequence that ends in a masterful moment of chaos and tragedy.
The reality of it all dissipates for those brief moments, making Deepwater Horizon feel more like a large-scale, fictional disaster instead of something based off a true story. However, like Lone Survivor, Berg does a great job bringing everything full circle, ending Deepwater Horizon in a fashion that respects the men lost in the disaster with an emotional epilogue filled with real-world footage, testimonials from survivors, and a memorial of the victims.
Wahlberg is the centerpiece of the movie, and the lens through which most of the event is digested. He continues to excel in the roles that Berg’s films call for; someone identifiable as a hard-working American laced in front of insurmountable odds. It’s a shell that Wahlberg has seemingly been built for and one in which he has thrived in since The Departed, and Deepwater is no exception.
Complimenting Wahlberg is a supporting cast that doesn’t have much in the way of character development, but compensates heavily with raw emotion. Gina Rodriguez, known from her role in Jane the Virgin, has the most impactful role as Andrea Fleytas, the ship’s conductor, who is a key component of a major emotional moment late in the final act. Another shining star is Kurt Russell, who portrays the father figure of the group, and in a way also represents the voice of reason to help the viewer understand the steps that brought the rig to the brink of disaster.
Outside of these three leads, the level of character development is surprisingly shallow. Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson and the remaining cast members are merely there to push the movie through to its conclusion, with Hudson dominating the beginning of the film as Williams’ wife, but facing a drastic contrast once the disaster begins. The biggest pitfall is in the film’s representation of Donald Vitrine, the BP representative charged with ensuring the company’s best interests at the site. John Malkovich portrays Vitrine, who comes off as a weird combination of parody and stereotype, and so insufferable that you wish it isn’t anything close to a real-life portrayal.
In that same regard, Berg doesn’t take liberty placing blame for the incident, rather letting the facts speak for themselves. Berg wisely elects to place the focus on the survivors of the disaster, and doesn’t let the poor characterization of Vitrine and other BP representatives overshadow the true focal point of the movie. The epilogue properly details the corporate ramifications of the spill, which is sure to provoke post-viewing discussion, but credit goes to Berg for ensuring that the lens is on the true focal point of the film; those fighting for survival on the rig.
Deepwater Horizon is another fantastic film by Peter Berg, who is quickly turning into a well-refined American film director. A top-heavy cast drives its way through a fast-paced and visually stunning movie, although a diminished supporting cast somewhat hampers the effect. Regardless, Deepwater Horizon is a well-executed look inside one of the defining disasters of our generation and is well worth the view.