The next time you stop at a petrol station, spare a thought for the workers on offshore oil platforms. These brave men and women, after all, spend up to months at sea away from their families, working hard to obtain oil in dangerous conditions.
And after watching Deepwater Horizon, a biographical thriller about the worst oil spill in American history, you really realise the full extent of how dangerous those conditions can be. While scientific advances have allowed us to drill into oil wells beneath the sea bed with impunity, it only takes the smallest human error (especially coupled with corporate negligence) to cause a disaster.
Directed by Peter Berg (Hancock, Lone Survivor), the film combines high-octane special effects with solid acting to create a highly compelling movie experience.
If you’ve forgotten the true story behind this movie, here it is again: on April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire broke out aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, located off the coast of Louisiana. This resulted in many deaths, as well as a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which was considered to be the largest accidental marine oil spill in the world.
Deepwater Horizon dramatises the incidents that led up to that massive disaster. It introduces us to Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), an engineer aboard the platform, who is a family man devoted to his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and young daughter. It’s a busy day on the Deepwater Horizon: executives from BP, the company that hired them, are visiting, much to the displeasure of his superior officer, Jimmy (Kurt Russell).
The executives, led by Don Vidrine (John Malkovich), are adamant that the platform commence oil drilling operations, despite the fact that safety tests have not fully been carried out. While Jimmy does his best to protest, the operations go ahead: and you don’t have to be a film school graduate to figure out what happens next. The oil hits the fan in the most spectacular way possible, and Mike and the Deepwater crew must escape the rig despite impossible odds.
The special effects are convincing and well done, and some of the explosions in the movie would give Michael Bay a wet dream.
Despite all the carnage and destruction going on, however, Berg wisely keeps the story focused on the personal struggles of the crew, and their heroism in the face of danger. The climax, which features Mike and frazzled bridge engineer Andrea (Gina Rodriguez) having to make a terrifying choice, is well set up and is the highlight of the film.
Another nice thing about Deepwater Horizon is that, unlike other thrillers, it shows us how its characters respond to suffering through the extremely traumatic events of the story. This adds not only realism, but emotional depth as well.
Performances are fine: Wahlberg is generally good at playing heroic everyman roles, and certainly stands out in this movie. Russell also turns in a strong performance, his character coming off as a competent and selfless man unfortunately caught up in the tangle of corporate bureaucracy.
It is with the supporting cast, however, that the movie falters a little: Berg does his best to imbue the non-Wahlberg workers on the Deepwater Horizon with personality, but they all feel rather the same, and eventually blur into each other by the end. Hudson has the thankless stock role of the scared wife worried from afar.
And Malkovich steals every scene he is in, but not always in a positive way. He portrays his character as the true epitome of the spineless businessman, and his unique drawl and inflections can make him sometimes feel a little too over the top. He’s definitely always watchable, though!
All in all, Deepwater Horizon is one of the better-made ecological disaster movies out there. Watching it will most likely make you feel outraged: not just at the scope of the tragedy, but also at the actions of some of the actual people who contributed to it. And hopefully that will help ensure that something like this never happens again.
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Gina Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson