2016, PG-13, 107 min. Directed by Peter Berg. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, Douglas M. Griffin, Ethan Suplee, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Stella Allen.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Sept. 30, 2016
If you were going to make a film about one of the worst man-made disasters of all time, one that saw over 210 million gallons of oil dumped into the Gulf of Mexico, a disaster whose environmental impact probably won’t be completely known for decades to come, a disaster that devastated marine life and continues to affect the health of residents in Texas and Louisiana … well, if you were going to make that film, it probably would look nothing like Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon, a hybrid/throwback to Seventies disaster films that documents the catastrophic event on April 20, 2010, that led to 11 deaths on the titular oil rig, but not the aforementioned (and continued) consequences.
That Berg and writers Matthew Carnahan and Matthew Sand (adapting a New York Times article by David Rohde and Stephanie Saul) stick strictly to the day of that explosion and subsequent fire that sank the Deepwater Horizon certainly presents a narrative opportunity, but the lack of any resonance to larger issues is troubling (the end-credit coda is woefully thin).
Wahlberg’s Mike Williams is headed out for a three-week stint on the rig, already missing his wife Felicia (Hudson, in the film for about 10 minutes) and daughter Sydney (Allen). We meet a few other key players, crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Russell), and crew member Andrea Fleytas (Rodriguez) as they all converge for a seemingly normal stint pumping the petroleum that lubes our society. The first quarter of Deepwater Horizon is filled with obtuse roughneck nomenclature foreshadowing the explosion (the term “blowout preventer” figures prominently), as well as a jaunty working-class humor that Berg uses to juxtapose the class difference (here embodied by the ever reliable John Malkovich, as a Cajun-accented British Petroleum executive). When things go tits up, and the oil rig becomes a flaming death trap, the film’s purpose comes into view. Berg is a master at depicting mayhem, people fleeing from pressurized bolts flying everywhere and flames soaring up at the worst possible time, but it ends up becoming an exhaustive puzzle as you try to figure out where everyone is in relation to everyone else. Frenetic does not even begin to describe the film’s fiery confusion. At one point, a character admonishes, “Slow it down and smooth it out!" I’m still unsure what they were referring to within the context of the film, but that’s a pretty good critique of this exercise in hero worship. Incidentally, J.C. Candor (All Is Lost, A Most Violent Year) was originally tapped to helm this film, but left during preproduction over creative differences. I can’t imagine why.