I well remember the 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the resulting 210 million gallons of oil that blanketed the Gulf of Mexico. My family and I had a Caribbean cruise set for a couple of months after the explosion. We stayed glued to the news coverage as efforts were made to keep the oil slick’s damage to a minimum. We wondered if our cruise would be canceled, but far more important than our measly vacation plans were the eleven lives lost and the ecological damage caused by what was the worst oil disaster in the nation’s history.
The film “Deepwater Horizon” is based on these terrible events of April 20, 2010. Mark Wahlberg plays Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams who leaves his family for a three week rotation onboard Deepwater Horizon which sits 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. He arrives with navigation officer Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) and crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) to discover certain safety tests were skipped by the previous shift.
With the rig’s stability in question Jimmy confronts the BP representatives who are onboard to find out why the operation is over 40 days behind schedule. A delightfully sleazy John Malkovich plays Donald Vidrine, a BP manager willing to skirt around safety protocols for the sake of the company’s bottom line. There is some great headbutting between the profit-driven Malkovich and the salty realist Russell.
Writers Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand break their story into two halves. The first is focused on developing the tension between the Horizon’s crew and the corporate reps. One of the best early scenes has Wahlberg challenging and exposing Malkovich by saying “hope is not a tactic”. Through these clashes we are fed more and more insight into the calamity we know is on the way.
The second half becomes a story of survival as the film shifts to the explosion and the people trapped on the rig. It’s a much different turn but it’s just as gripping. The film wisely keeps its characters grounded and at no point do they come across as superheroes. It’s also helped by tremendous special effects (which earned an Oscar nomination) and top-notch editing that covers all of the story’s angles at a fast and fluid pace.
“Deepwater Horizon” is the second of three straight collaborations between director Peter Berg and the every-man Mark Wahlberg. Their story of unflinching heroism in the face of undaunted corporate greed is both revealing and inspiring. I’m an admitted disaster movie junkie, and many of them depend on some level of sensationalism. “Deepwater Horizon” keeps its focus on the 126 crew members aboard the rig on that horrible day. Some barely survived while others lost their lives. The movie is always conscious of that truth and as a result we are too.
VERDICT – 4 STARS