You’ll probably leave the theater a little upset and pretty angry.
That doesn’t mean audiences shouldn’t flock to the theater in droves to see “Deepwater Horizon,” the based-on-a-true-story disaster film from “Lone Survivor” director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg.
The new film follows veteran driller Mike Williams (Wahlberg) and assorted crew members of the offshore oil drilling unit Deepwater Horizon as they prepare to open a new well for British Petroleum (BP) off the coast of Louisiana. Faulty installation of cement at the base of the well helped lead to catastrophic problems, major explosions and oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.
While recent biopics like “Sully” have delved into the aftermath of major events – Tom Hanks’ film focuses on the NTSB investigation of the plane landing on the Hudson River – “Deepwater Horizon” approaches its events in more chronological, straightforward terms, leaving out the investigation into BP. However the oil company is represented in Berg’s movie as a major villain, primarily through John Malkovich’s expert portrayal of BP executive Donald Vidrine.
In order to keep “Deepwater Horizon” as much of an action/thriller as possible, Berg’s film rarely utilizes the impassioned soliloquys usually found in biopic dramas and offers a “no frills” approach to his cinema. As a result, the acting performances in the film are somewhat tampered down.
The film’s main focus, Mike Williams, is portrayed by Wahlberg with much gusto. But as with so many other Wahlberg performances, a solid effort from the veteran Boston actor is overshadowed by another actor, the spectacle of the movie itself, or in the case of “Deepwater Horizon” both.
Malkovich’s Donald Vidrine doesn’t get a lot of screen time in the overall scheme of the movie, but his perfect portrayal of the greedy, conniving BP executive is the best piece of acting in the entire film. His confrontation scene with Wahlberg shortly before the explosions begin give a dynamic summary of BP’s attitudes towards the events causing the disaster. In fact, “Deepwater Horizon” would have been a much different and arguably much better film had the Vidrine character been expanded significantly.
Aside from Wahlberg, “Deepwater Horizon” leans heavy on a talented, but secondary supporting cast including Kurt Russell as the rig’s captain, Dylan O’Brian as a driller working the main floor of the rig and Gina Rodriguez as the ship’s pilot. Among these performances, Kate Hudson offers her best work in several years in the small, but crucial role as Williams’ wife Felicia.
The effectiveness in Hudson’s portrayal, representing all of the families of Deepwater Horizon crew members, helps viewers emotionally invest in the outcome of the film. Many times in films like this, the stereotypical “family member left at home” character is played incredibly shallow and the “back home” relationship for the main character is better left on the editing room floor.
With “Deepwater Horizon,” Mike’s relationship with his wife is the emotional core of the entire film and drives home the dramatic elements of a largely action-based feature. Hudson and Wahlberg show good chemistry in limited screen time together and their efforts make the overall narrative more convincing as a result.
Perhaps the biggest flaw within “Deepwater Horizon” lies in Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand’s screenplay, which rarely shies away from the overt technical jargon related to offshore oil drilling. Whereas a film like Oliver Stone’s “Snowden” goes to extreme lengths to simplify a complex topic like government surveillance, “Deepwater Horizon” powers through conversation after conversation between workers on the Deepwater Horizon without much care given to audiences’ understanding of why the explosion and subsequent spill happens.
Viewers will eventually infer the basics of the whys and hows, but the screenplay refuses to slow down in lieu of maintaining a brisk pace. Those sparked to learn more about the technical aspects of the disaster from watching “Deepwater Horizon” should seek out the 2014 documentary “The Great Invisible,” a South by Southwest Film Festival award winning film that covers the root causes of the disaster as well as the ensuing government investigation.
“Deepwater Horizon” is unlikely to receive any critical accolades this fall, though that isn’t because Berg’s film isn’t worth spending 107 minutes on in theaters.
An imperfect film, “Deepwater Horizon” will likely leave viewers with questions about real life events and in utter awe over how many individuals’ lives were saved by the bravery of the rig’s crew and other extraordinary circumstances. Overall, the “Lone Survivor” team of Berg and Wahlberg make a taut, engaging film that audiences won’t be disappointed in once they leave the cinema.