Review of Deepwater Horizon

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Deepwater Horizon (2016) Dir: Peter Berg, Summit Entertainment / Participant Media / DI Bonaventura Pictures / Closest to the Hole Productions / Leverage Entertainment / Lionsgate, 12A

After Lone Survivor (2013) Deepwater Horizon (2016) reunites Director Peter Berg and Actor / Producer Mark Wahlberg and stars John Malkovich, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez and Dylan O’Brien. The film is a dramatized account, based on the New York Times article ‘Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours’, of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the blowout and explosion on the drilling rig which claimed 11 lives and went on to spill 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

I was nervous going into this film, primarily because it has been advertised on the basis of being “Based on a true story” or “Inspired by real events” this usually sets alarm bells ringing in my head since these type of films can have a tendency to over dramatize and sensationalise the events that they are portraying. Secondly, Mark Wahlberg’s performances in the past have been hit and miss.

For me, some of the most powerful and those that created the most impact weren’t the action set pieces but the smaller, quieter scenes in the film. For example, the confrontation between Mark Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and BP manager Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) as Vidrine challenges Williams over his concerns for the safety of the oil well, explaining to Vidrine that hope is not a tactic.

What we have with Deepwater Horizon is an efficient drama which puts you in the heart and the viscera of a disaster on an oil rig.  The physicality of the set, the attention to detail of the correct equipment in the correct place, terminology and dedication to in-camera special effects place you on the rig in a believable working environment. There also is a palpable sense of the mounting tension and mounting pressure, bubbling from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. A pressure that is only relieved in the film’s third act.

Tonally, and in the way which Peter Berg builds tension in the film it is vaguely reminiscent of Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips (2013). At first, I was nervous coming into this film but I do have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the film and the execution of the action set pieces. It serves as a reminder of how dangerous the world of offshore drilling is and the ability of people to survive through situations which could only be described as their worst nightmare.

This film isn’t an instant classic or what I would consider to be up there with the masters of cinema. However, Deepwater Horizon isn’t a bad work at all, a slick drama with action elements that doesn’t fall into being a cheap emotional ploy and not a bad way to spend 107 minutes.

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