Deepwater Horizon is entertaining for the most part”

by Steve Pulaski

“Give me a sec, I gotta think!”

That line is uttered by one of the many oil-rig workers on the large but cramped Deepwater Horizon, which sits several nautical miles deep into the Gulf of Mexico. The character, who blends in with many of the other interchangeable faces in this film, just needs a moment of clarity and uninterrupted thinking so he can try to grapple with how to deal with the catastrophic meltdown currently occurring on this massive rig. Things are exploding, metal, both in small shards and large poles, are being flung in every direction, and anywhere on or near this thing is a fiery, explosive death-trap. The situation allows for not even one second of clear thinking.

Deepwater Horizon focuses on the incredible blowout and explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, which resulted in the enormous oil rig sinking, subsequently unleashing thousands of gallons of petroleum oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The incident is the worst recorded oil disaster in American history, and successfully plunged the southern-coast economy of businesses and Gulf-centered tourism into a financially dreadful summer. Director Peter Berg’s nine-figure budget film focuses on the events leading up to and during the actual explosion of the rig, more-or-less centering the action on Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), a veteran engineer technician working on the rig.

Deepwater Horizon
Directed by
Peter Berg
Cast
Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Douglas M. Griffin
Release Date
30 September 2016
Steve’s Grade: B-


The film shows how abysmal safety conditions, due to the reluctance and negligence of Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich), the owner of the rig, as well as poorly maintained equipment resulted in such a catastrophe. The final nail in the coffin was a clogged pipe that housed so much pressure that all it could do was explode, sending anyone within a five foot radius into the sky or ricocheting off of metal, lucky if they didn’t die or sustain any crippling injuries as a result. Amidst a full-crew of two dozen workers is Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), the projects manager who sustains serious, nearly fatal wounds but still carries on with the help of Mike.

Deepwater Horizon inevitably suffers by comparison to Sully, and it’s essentially the antithesis of that very film. Sully was a film predicated upon a real-life disaster, but focused on the titular character behind it and the trauma he faced as a result. Deepwater Horizon solely focuses on the real-life disaster, and while that’s not an issue, it would’ve been a more compelling film had it balanced the disaster with the human drama, particularly what we see of Mike Williams late in the third act. Had Sully not recently come out, however, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t even be mentioning this.

Furthermore, Enrique Chediak’s cinematography does a fairly good job of profiling the kind of disaster one could foresee on an oil rig. An ironic bout of foreshadowing comes into play when Vidrine claims that he’s in charge of every moving part on Deepwater Horizon, yet when the rig begins to suffer the explosion and complete meltdown, he’s on the other side, amidst a large part of his crew, unaware of the current issue at hand. Chediak keeps spacial awareness in mind at almost all times in the film, even when the screen is filled with black filth. While there is never any clear map to the rig that the audience becomes aware of, or even in-tuned with, there’s enough shots and moments during the slowburn first act that clearly show what kind of non-linear beast of a contraption we’re stranded on, if nothing else.

Deepwater Horizon is entertaining for the most part, and while characterization is unsurprisingly nonexistent, the pathos and emotional core of the film is effective enough in a memorializing sense that it doesn’t become a cheap ploy to manipulate your tear-ducts. It also stands on its own of effectively humanizing a tragedy most of us probably remember simply as that time when a ton of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. It was a story that needed to be told; with such the budget of a superhero film, I’m not so sure.