Deepwater Horizon review: Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg deliver an authentic, accurate depiction of the terrible oil rig disaster in the Gulf Of Mexico from 2010.
Deepwater Horizon review, TIFF ’16.
Filmmaker Peter Berg reunites with his Lone Survivor star Mark Wahlberg for another motion picture action/drama based on fact, this time the tradgedy that was the BP oil disaster in the Gulf Of Mexico back in 2010.
Deepwater Horizon was an oil rig assembled by the company Transocean back in 2001, but leased to British oil company BP, who were running the rig at the time of the disaster . 126 people were on board the rig when the eruption of drilling mud, methane gas, and water occurred, shortly after 9.45pm local time on 20th April, 2010. Amongst them is Mike Williams (Wahlberg), the key character in this film adaptation of the story, who is joined by a solid ensemble cast including Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien and Kate Hudson as Williams’ wife Felicia.
Berg opens his movie with little imagery, initially just a blank screen with audible, archived dialogue from the actual inquest which followed the huge oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon. During the powerful opening segment we hear the real Mike Williams, before Berg segways into the dramatisation, nicely setting up Williams’ back-story, briefly showing him at home with wife Felicia and young daughter Sydney (Stella Allen) – instantly humanizing this real character ahead of the inevitable. We meet most of the other characters as they board choppers bound for the Deepwater Horizon, the only other person of interest in terms of her backstory being Rodriguez’s Andrea Fleets, which seems just a touch out of place. It is touched upon, but is swiftly moved on because, in a matter of minutes, we’re aboard the huge rig itself, the many characters, including Kurt Russell’s ‘Mr. Jimmy’, and Ethan Suplee‘s Jason Alexander, blinding us with science about the inner working, along with some other stuff including something about a safety check that hasn’t been completed. Then, in rolls the villain of the piece, John Malkovich’s BP executive Donald Vidrine, a character possibly more concerned about the bottom line that a potential issue that could arise.
The action kicks off very quickly – the rig-workers put in peril from this awful disaster very early on in the film – and once that does happen, it really does not let up. This makes for a very fast-paced film that moves forward at an almighty speed – the near-110 minutes fly by in a heartbeat – the action intensifying as each moment passes.
What I was afraid of going in to the film was that it would be an overblown, glossy affair that would dilute its very serious, and indeed very recent subject matter, but thankfully this wasn’t the case at all. Berg has actually created a very realistic-looking movie that feels authentic and respectful to the material and is a million miles away from the look and tone of some of his previous movies (We’re talking Battleship specifically).
The story focusses on a small group of the 126 people that were on board, and my only gripe was that we don’t really see past a dozen or so them – in fact we only get a sense of how many people were stuck on board the rig as we approach the climax and inevitable rescue. This is understandable though as Berg and screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Hand clearly and cleverly focus their attention on fleshing out a small specific set of characters – and they do it well. We really care for all of them.
With the natural, factual information that adorns the screen just prior to the credits, the sheer personal tragedy of the event really hits home – really rather hard actually – and just proves that prior to this, we’ve only really heard just part of the story in this very recent history.
Deepwater Horizon is a really thrilling, engrossing factually accurate and indeed very solid film, which ticks all of the boxes. It truly delivers on every level and with much more weight that initially expected. Highly recommended.
Deepwater Horizon review by Paul Heath, Toronto International Film Festival 2016.
Deepwater Horizon is released in the UK on September 29th, 2016.