Title: Deepwater Horizon
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Mr. Burns: Soon, that mighty apparatus will burst forth with its precious fluid. Almost sexual, isn't it, Smithers?
Brief Plot Synopsis: America's worst marine disaster is surprisingly watchable.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four Uncle Bobs out of five.
Tagline: "When faced with our darkest hour, hope is not a tactic."
Better Tagline: "Never trust a company man."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon is 43 days overdue in drilling an exploratory well on the Macondo Prospect, and the big shots from British Petroleum are getting a little antsy. BP rig supervisor Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) especially, who in turn pressures Transocean rig manager “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell). Harrell still insists on performing tests on the line. When the test results are ambiguous, the Transocean crew, including chief electrician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), reluctantly proceeds, not realizing pressure from the well is building beneath and is about to have catastrophic results for everyone aboard.
"Critical" Analysis: Deepwater Horizon isn’t “entertaining” per se, nor should it be. But director Peter Berg has crafted a gripping, emotionally compelling movie that will certainly keep your ass in its seat, but like films such as United 93 and Berg’s own Lone Survivor, the knowledge that you’re watching real events unfold is always at the forefront.
Even taking away the “true events” aspect, Deepwater Horizon is one hell of an action movie. When the inevitable finally happens and the rig starts going up, the explosions are like a series of punches to the stomach. The carnage is terrifying, all the more so because we know not all the crew we meet are going to make it.
Berg and company have a fairly easy job, getting us to sympathize with characters we know are about to go through hell. He and his Lone Survivor star Wahlberg also have a nice side business going, taking American tragedies and fashioning action movies out of them. To be fair, Wahlberg is refreshingly understated as Williams, necessarily so when you’re playing someone not tasked with fighting alongside giant robots. Williams is a heroic figure, to be sure, but his feats are grounded in actual physics and gravity. Wahlberg’s good enough for us to forgive his on-again/off-again Louisiana accent, or the fact he once told us he would have saved United #93.
Russell and Gina Rodriguez (playing rig pilot Andrea Freytas) also tally in the “good guy” column, as does Kate Hudson in an (necessarily?) underutilized role as Williams’s wife, Felicia. Decidedly not is Malkovich’s Vidrine, all creepy Cajun patois and rich-guy menace. He's a cutter of both corners and lifeboat lines, and his melodramatic villainy is Deepwater Horizon’s biggest weakness.
Berg also sets the events up well, using Williams's daughter to walk the layperson through what a dynamically positioned, semi-submersible offshore drilling rig actually does, then outlining the operational logistics with a rapid-fire walkthrough of the rig in the film's second act.
For better or worse, Berg ends the story here, before venturing into the stickier aftermath. The blowout resulted in 210 million barrels of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of 87 days — most of which is still unaccounted for — and years of lawsuits.
If you live on the Gulf Coast, you may find it questionable or even distasteful to make an action movie out of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, but Berg reins in his frequently jingoistic impulses to tell a story of ordinary men and women engaging performing extraordinarily brave acts. He does right by their memories.