Directed by: Peter Berg.
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand based on the article by David Rohde and Stephanie Saul.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg (Mike Williams), Kurt Russell (Jimmy Harrell), Gina Rodriguez (Andrea Fleytas), John Malkovich (Vidrine), Douglas M. Griffin (Landry), James DuMont (O'Bryan), Joe Chrest (Sims), Brad Leland (Kaluza), David Maldonado (Kuchta), J.D. Evermore (Dewey A. Revette), Ethan Suplee (Jason Anderson), Jason Pine (Stephen Ray Curtis), Jason Kirkpatrick (Aaron Dale Burkeen), Robert Walker Branchaud (Doug Brown), Dylan O'Brien (Caleb Holloway), Jonathan Angel (Gordon Jones).
What director Peter Berg and company did with Deepwater Horizon is to essentially remake the 1974 disaster film The Towering Inferno, except a instead of a gigantic skyscraper, we have a gigantic semi-submersible oil rig. That this is based on a real life story doesn’t really stop the filmmakers from making this into a pure Hollywood disaster film – and all that that implies. Berg is a skilled filmmaker, and he knows how to make a film like this. Mark Wahlberg is a likable movie star, and he knows how to be the hero in something like this – and turn him into a gritty everyman (or at least the version of an Everyman that every man wants to see themselves as). The whole thing is done with proficiency and skill – but it’s also lacking a certain something. It’s all too by the numbers to really hit as hard as it should.
The film is basically told in two halves of roughly the same length. In the first half, we meet the crew aboard the Deepwater Horizon. The boss is Jimmy (Kurt Russell), a no-nonsense guy with a great mustache, and he’s returning to his rig after some time off alongside Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) – whose job seems to entail making sure everything on board works, and Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), who works in the control room. Things aren’t good right off the bat – the BP execs have sent the cement testing team home in an effort to save some money. Jimmy’s livid, but he really cannot do anything about it. He insists on a different test – and the evil BP exec (embodied by John Malkovich, doing an accent like he’s auditioning for the lead role in a James Carville biopic) relents. Even those tests don’t show precisely what they want to see – but close enough. Drilling starts and disaster strikes – which is act two.
The Deepwater Horizon incident cost 11 men their lives, and spilled millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, making it the worst environmental disaster in American history. In the first half, the film shows what went wrong and why – basically, BP is greedy and lazy, and wanted the oil to start flowing on a project that was running behind schedule, so they cut corners, which led to what happened. The film has a fairly simplistic moral outlook – Mike and Jimmy good, John Malkovich, bad – but that’s what disaster films always do – they need a human villain, and John Malkovich makes a good version of the Richard Chamberlain character from The Towering Inferno.
I don’t have a lot to say about Deepwater Horizon. It is a well-made movie to be sure – Berg is a fine director of this type of large scale spectacle, and he’s very good at the action sequences, and keeping everything clear. The second half of the film is excellently crafted, yet never quite rises to the level of the truly gripping, edge of your seat excitement you expect in a film like this. Wahlberg, Russell, Rodriguez, Malkovich and the cast do their jobs, as does the rest of the cast – no one is given more than one note to play, but they don’t need to. As far as disaster films go, Deepwater Horizon pretty much gets the job done, and little else.