Deepwater Horizon

In Films by Alex Moss Editor

Last time director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg teamed up they gave us the visceral experience that was Lone Survivor. Spoilerific title aside Survivor told a relentless story of survival. There was unquestionably a desire to honour the US soldiers who had given their services above and beyond the call of duty. It is a theme that resonates throughout Berg’s work as a filmmaker, even in his box office wreckage that was Battleship.

Deepwater Horizon might not feature military personnel but it does focus on blue collar workers putting their lives at risk within the confines of a tightly run ship. The same military protocol that dominates so many of Berg’s films is present and correct. The difference here is rather than enemy insurgents proving to be these comrades undoing it is the all consuming, powerful dollar that makes these men expendable in the demand of turning a profit.

Deepwater Horizon tells the story behind the headline grabbing oil spill, the biggest ecological disaster in US history. But amid the chaos there were a group of individuals trying to not only stay alive but overt said disaster.

Berg starts the film by not just letting us know that Wahlberg’s real-life character Mike Williams has a family, a wife, in the flirtatious form of Kate Hudson and his cute as a button daughter, but also an inherent fear of the job he has undertaken. As he sets off for his latest shift on the Deepwater Horizon Berg subtly reminds us of how the oil industry literally drives the world we occupy. From filling up at the gas station, fuelling the helicopter to the oil rig itself. This isn’t a big business, it’s the business.

This in turn allows the film to explore the dynamic aboard the titular vessel. Because it is here where the blue collar workers work, sweat and toil while the white collar suits watch on, worried about delays and profit loss. This is captured smartly in Kurt Russell’s Deepwater captain Jimmy Harrell and BP moneyman Vidrine, played to almost villainous levels by John Malkovich. While Russell’s character wants everything done by the book, safety measures taken at every corner, Malkovich is all about getting the black liquid gold pumped out of the well below now, now, now.

The second act works well in slowly crafting the tension amid those on board. All the while, deep below the surface, we see the sheer force of nature and billions of years of pressure itching to be set free by man’s hubris. We get to know key characters, including Gina Rodriguez’s Deepwater pilot Andrea Fleytas and Dylan O’Brien’s roughneck Caleb Holloway, through their familiar interaction and banter. And because you know what inevitably happens you find yourself both revealing and being ever so slightly frustrated by the gradual unfolding of events.

But it is worth the wait. When the well finally bursts Berg’s direction will have you gasping. Think The Towering Inferno but at sea. Or Back Draft meets The Poseidon Adventure. Berg captures the energy and impact of the disaster with brutal and staggering reality. Every rivet pop and bulkhead explosion will have you ducking and covering. The final act is relentless in the ferocity of the action. It makes you realise that, while the oil spill was a tragedy based on idiocy, there was a whole other story to Deepwater Horizon, one of incredible bravery and tragic loss. By the time the film ends you will be exhausted and overwhelmed at the conclusion of the fallout from the legal cases that occurred after the disaster.

A devastating and breathtaking insight into the story behind a well known event that demonstrates that, like much of the film, Berg has the ability to be a force of nature to be reckoned with.