Not many directors can put a human face on tragedy like Peter Berg. He did a terrific job with 2013’s Lone Survivor about a team of four man Navy Seal team sent on a reconnaissance mission to identify a Taliban leader, only to end up under siege from hundreds of Taliban fighters. It was a powerhouse of a film. Deepwater Horizon is also the true story of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that caught fire in 2010 and ended the lives of eleven men and became the biggest oil spill disaster in American history. Could it have been prevented? In many ways, yes. But this film is about those who perished and as a memorial to those people, Deepwater Horizon is a tremendous achievement.
The film stars Mark Wahlberg as Mike Williams a general fix-it crew member on the rig. Married and with a daughter, he has a pretty good life, despite being away from his family for three weeks at a time. His boss and friend, Mr. Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) is on edge because the safety features for this new rig are behind. WAY behind. I will spare you the technical information, but in a nutshell, the safety features on this rig were designed to protect the personnel and the environment. Yet, the powers that be were not that concerned and with devastating consequences.
Deepwater Horizon was actually, in effect, a boat or ship with propellers and Andrea Fleytas was the pilot of this beast. It was designed to propel itself but when they find a place to drill, the pontoons fill with water to stabilize the rig while they drill. It is state of the art but ut is doomed. Once the rig begins to fall apart, bad turns to worse and gets even worse as the whole rig is on fire and exploding into pieces. Before I saw this film, I read up on the people that were there so I had an idea who survived and who did not. I learned what kind of people they are and were. Director Berg does a wonderful job of fleshing out these characters and showing just how tough these brave men and women are who work on these rigs. I have immense respect for their hard work and fearless nature. This is a film about heroism; people at their best when times are at their worst and Berg captures the rawness of the situation.
Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand’s script is able to tell the story of what went wrong on the rig and why it happened but it does so in a way that is accessible to the audience. It does not lecture the viewers or talk down to them and was actually fascinating to learn how these things operate. The visuals are spectacular but do not overwhelm the story or exploit the lives lost there. This is a classy and respectful film about the victims but also the people around them. It is never overly sentimental or cheesy. This is a tough, hard-nosed and gritty film that has a heart and understands what it is trying to do.
The acting is superb with a cast that has all of the right players doing justice to the real people they are portraying. From Wahlberg to Russell down to the sweet Kate Hudson as Mike’s wife, John Malkovich donning a perfect Cajun accent and Dylan Walsh as a heroic worker who manages to get several of his fellow workers to safety. Gina Rodriguez is excellent as Andrea Fleytas, the pilot of the Deepwater Horizon. She is tough, smart and able to hold her own against the men she works along side. Steve Jablonsky provides a beautiful agile score that has some gorgeous themes for the aerial and nature shots, some gut pounding percussive themes when the inferno starts and concludes with some slower somber themes honoring those who did not survive. All told, eleven perished on that day. Deepwater Horizon, as a film, honors those dead and their families in a superior thriller with heart and soul.
Deepwater Horizon – ****1/2 out of 5
Deepwater Horizon – Rated PG-13 for violence, intense scenes of peril, language, some sexual innuendo and adult situations
Deepwater Horizon – Run Time is 107 minutes
Deepwater Horizon is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations.