Review: Deepwater Horizon Has Good Intentions But Stumbles
Title: Deepwater Horizon
Director: Peter Berg
Summary: A story set on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded during April 2010 and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
There are some subjects that just make sense for being made into movies. The tragic events on the Gulf of Mexico that took place back in 2010 did not feel like one. I had a horrible feeling that it was going to be a propaganda movie that swung either way that became insufferable. I had very little confidence in what kind of movie this could be and the release date was not giving me much in the way of confidence either. This is the kind of movie that is either trying to be a big blockbuster action movie born out of true events or the kind of award season movie seeking to gain voter sympathy. It felt like the marketing didn’t even know what kind of movie Deepwater Horizon was trying to be.
Deepwater Horizon is a movie that focuses on the men and women that were involved in the accident that lead to the oil leak rather than the leak itself.
The human element of tragedies such as the one that took place in the Gulf that night is one that is often overlooked. The names of the men that lost their lives in the resulting explosion and fire are going to be lost to the history books to the shady dealing of BP and how terrible the leak ended up being for the environment. Deepwater Horizon is a movie that seems all too aware of this and seeks to rectify it. There aren’t any moments that show the aftermath of the disaster, how BP tried to fix it or even really showing the environmental impact, but the immediate reactions of the people directly involved. This is a ‘man against nature’ survival movie only the nature is an exploding oil rig and not a mountain or a natural disaster. This focus on the people is probably why the movie ended up working on any level because survival is a thing we can all relate to.
The cast is great with Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell being the two standouts. They are the perfect archetypes for people that we can easily relate to as they both struggle in different ways to survive the disaster. There are few people that can inhabit the ‘everyman’ as well as Wahlberg but when he does he’s great. Russell is believable as a boss willing to do everything he can to save his crew. John Malkovich is on hand as a BP representative that is not presented in a good light. This is probably the most political part of the movie; it does not shy away from the fact that this could have been avoided if BP hadn’t pushed an unsteady project forward. The focus on the event and not the aftermath gives the film no time to redeem BP and doesn’t seem keen to.
If the movie stumbles, and it absolutely does, it’s in the ending. This is one of those movies that I wish could have ended five minutes before it actually does because the resulting tonal shift was enough to give me metaphorical whiplash. It goes from a stark, realistic thriller to a somber almost funereal feeling that just did not work. I understand that this probably meant to reinforce the human element and loss of life but it was too heavy handed. We just spent the entire run time watching some of these people die, one even witnessing it first hand, we didn’t need these scenes to reinforce that. A slow cut to black as Deepwater Horizon burned would have been a much more fitting ending.
Deepwater Horizon more or less completes its goal of focusing on the lives lost rather than the aftermath of the BP disaster. It’s not exactly memorable but as a movie that set out to accomplish one, main goal it did attain it even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing.