Deepwater Horizon Review [TIFF 2016]
Deepwater Horizon is a viciously intense disaster film engulfed by the flames of greed and ego – and actual, physical flames. Despite already knowing the film’s infamous outcome, director Peter Berg still manages to deliver a tragic, exciting retelling of the worst oil crisis in US history. This is no action film – Berg does well to highlight every ill-advised instruction and heroic showing of humanity, focusing solely on survival. Scene after scene, we can only sit and shake our heads as inevitability inches closer, enraged by the honest depiction of corporate stupidity shown by every BP “Company Man” aboard the Deepwater Horizon.
Mark Wahlberg stars as technician Mike Williams, second-hand to rig top-dog, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell). Upon their arrival on the Deepwater Horizon, Jimmy is informed that BP executives had executed orders without proper testing – championed by company man Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich). Jimmy is not thrilled by the directive, but further pressure tests prove that despite some wonky readings, everything seems to be in order. So, the Deepwater Horizon begins to start pumping, unbeknownst to the destructive chaos every crew member is about to face.
Berg wastes absolutely no time with exposition because the event is already etched in history, and we only have a few scenes to endure before the mobile rig finds itself under siege by mother nature. We get emotional establishment by way of Mike’s last morning with his family (wife played by Kate Hudson), along with a quick foreboding helicopter flight to Deepwater, but before long, erupting sludge covers the drill room in a thick brown mess. We’re immediately off to the races, as innocent, blue-collar workers are killed by white-collar decisions. Buttoned-up overseers sitting at their desks, telling employees everything will be fine from high above, out of harm’s way. It’s the plight of the working class, from the perspective of those who continue to do their jobs while staring down the Grim Reaper.
Production wastes no time on extra-curricular dramatics, either. Every decision is made to get off the rig, and characters are always pushing forward. Berg cuts back to a frantic Kate Hudson every now-and-then – because it’s important to understand how families were impacted by the nightmare – but Deepwater Horizon moves menacingly quick. You can feel the anger and disbelief directed towards BP even after so long, but storytelling also remains respectful of the lives lost that devastating day.
A lot of Berg’s power is found in performances, mostly by Wahlberg and Kurt Russell. The way Jimmy plays manager is both diplomatic and in-your-face, as he must deal with the brass while also keeping his crew safe. Yet, even when metal has melted and with glass sticking from his flesh, Jimmy’s demeanor stays glued to the task at hand – but the hatred shot through his bloody, squinting eyes says enough. The same goes for Wahlberg – who immediately jumps into action – embodying the selflessness of rig workers and the bond that ties them together. Dylan O’Brien offers a bit of personality as Caleb Holloway – a rigger who helps out Wahlberg’s Mike – and most other workers exude that homely brand of oil rig worker whose genuine charms are covered in dirt and grime.
Then there’s John Malkovich, that bastard BP decision-maker who dooms Deepwater Horizon. His Louisiana drawl and Southern colloquialisms paint Malkovich as a true villain, only softening when he witnesses the consequences of his hubris. Preaching about a collective whole is all bullshit, as it’s the insisting of Donald Vidrine that seals the fate of 11 workers. Malkovich does a wonderful job going from uncaring fat-cat t0 doe-eyed coward, keeping true business “corruption” from becoming too overly-Hollywood.
Deepwater Horizon is effective, efficient and furiously paced. From start to finish, we live out the lasts days aboard BP’s Deepwater Horizon – a national tragedy that begins with the tiniest air bubble. Peter Berg introduces audiences to a hulking behemoth of aquatic drilling technology, and then makes us watch as the folly of man tears it down from the inside. We’re reminded of the importance of human life, compared to the insignificance of profit margins. Pipes burst, catwalks wretch and lives are lost, as all we can do is watch with mouths agape, even though we know how this wretched day ends.
Deepwater Horizon is a viciously intense disaster film engulfed by the flames of greed and hubris.