Deepwater Horizon

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson

Director: Peter Berg

Running Time: 108 mins

Synopsis: Based on the real life disaster on the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, we follow Mike Williams (Wahlberg) on the ill fated day when poor management led to 11 deaths and the worst oil spill in US history.

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‘Inspired by a true story of real life heroes.’ So reads the tagline for this retelling of the disaster that caused billion of dollars of harm to the coast of Louisiana in 2010 and resulted in unprecedented fines for owner BP. A poster quote to inspire concern after Pete Berg’s last pic, Lone Survivor (surely the most spoilerific title in film history), deified its heroes in a sea of jingoistic mayhem. Not to mention from the man who graced us with Rihanna as a Naval Marine in the turgid Battleship. Surprisingly, there is not a shred of idealisation to these blue collar heroes. They are portrayed as regular decent men who were just doing their jobs, resulting in a truly moving tribute to their actions.

Our entry point into all this is Wahlberg’s Mike. We get a brief snapshot of his calm and happy family life, with Kate Hudson on solid form as his loving wife. Thanks to an efficient script and the easiness of the performances we care for these people quickly. The script does not, however, do their young daughter any favours by turning a school project she’s working on into a means of delivering loaded exposition. Berg doesn’t hang around for this to concern though and we are thrown into meeting the rest of the crew.

In keeping to a tight 108min runtime we rely on broad characterisation and strong casting choices for the remaining crew. If you want a world weary, moustache sporting respected old timer like a sort of Kurt Russell type, then just get Kurt Russell. Or a smarmy verbose company man who could be bald to accentuate his Lex Luthor callousness, try John Malkovich. These stock characters could be just that, throwaway, but the performances are great and the nimble script gives them chance to sketch out motivations and relationships with a few choice exchanges. The cast also have to deliver a hefty amount of detailed and complex instructions around the operation of the rig, and in all honesty it is impenetrable at times. However it moves so fast and they say it with such importance that you get the gist that these are clever guys who know there is oil afoot and how to extract it. In fact it adds a certain level of authenticity to proceedings, very much in the style of Paul Greengrass. He also is a master of an almost documentary like detail to events. Even the most smallest of descriptions, married with performance and focused camerawork can become scenes of real intensity.

Paul Greengrass seems to have been a key touchstone in other areas too. The jittery and constantly moving nature of the edits, the characterisation through brief dialogue snippets, and the coiled nature of the emotions. In fact the final moments of trauma and relief culminating in tears of anguish are very reminiscent of the end sequences of Greengrass’s Captain Philips. But Berg is not just a copycat here. He has a real control over the material. Nothing is superfluous and he executes incredible tension. The opening hour before disaster strikes is chock full of well executed sound design and constant images of pipes recoiling, liquids under pressure and dials spinning to put you in a constant state of sweaty palms.

When the inevitable moment strikes things do fall apart somewhat, for the film and the rig. Things happen incredibly fast and big moments of explosions rippling through or towers collapsing are somewhat abrupt. In going for realism this is probably pretty accurate into how things when down. But after the stretched out build up to the event it all seems to be over with barely a breath. The chaos that ensues can also be incredibly confusing, effective this may be in getting us to feel as they felt, it does lead to a genuine muddiness into who is who. Not helped is that when covered in oil everyone winds up looking the same. Location wise the impressive but blinding fire effects make it difficult to get a feel as to where our heroes are in relation to each other.

These are minor points though in a work of real control and a surprising lack of soapboxing. There are a few hints of anger at the bureaucracy and management failures that led to the incident but these are subtle enough to leave you feeling indignant without hammering the message home. Horizon is about the men at the heart of it all, who have become lost in all the talk of environmental disaster and company malfeasance since that night. The souls who perished and those who survived are given the recognition they deserve here and in its final moments I can’t imagine there will be many who don’t shed a tear for their sacrifice.

Verdict: Efficient, explosive and effective. Tightly constructed and, thanks to the terrific performances, a film of real emotion. It is a fine tribute to the working class heroes lost in the headlines.


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