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My familiarity on the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and subsequent 87-day oil spill extended no further than repeat viewings of the satirized, hilarious BP apology video created by South Park. I admit my ignorance, but fortunately it made my mind an open book for director Peter Berg‘s latest biographical outing, appropriately titled Deepwater Horizon. The thrilling spectacle of a hero story stars Mark Wahlberg in his second collaboration with Berg; his first being another heroic tale, the outstanding Lone Survivor. Could Horizon measure up to Survivor‘s quality though? I certainly think so, but it’s not a flawless movie.
Horizon begins 12 hours before the infamous calamity. Mark Wahlberg plays chief electronics technician Mike Williams, shown to have a very healthy married life with his wife Felicia, played by Kate Hudson, and a loving relationship with his daughter. We catch a glimpse of another character’s home life by the name of Andrea Fleytas, rig operator/navigator, portrayed by Gina Rodriguez, but not much else until all our central players convene on a helicopter en route to the oil rig out on the Gulf of Mexico.
Our supporting cast consists of Kurt Russell as Jimmy Harrell, the top-ranking on-board Transocean employee of Horizon, and the magnificent John Malkovich playing Donald Vidrine, the lead on-site BP representative who acts as our occasional antagonist. The film establishes early that the rig is faulty. Wahlberg’s Mike and Russell’s Jimmy often voice concerns to BP leadership about borderline to fully inoperable parts, but these concerns fall on deaf ears. Of course in reality, we discover this negligence during the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s investigation several months after the disaster.
Unfortunately the movie spends almost an hour throwing technical jargon around about the rig, expecting all viewers to follow along. If you’re in the oil industry, you’re lucky enough to be a part of the audience Peter Berg is directing this dialogue to. This exclusivity definitely damages the overall quality of the movie, but doesn’t detract from its thrills and stunning visuals. Once the build-up to the rig’s blast occurs, leading up to the blast itself, the film becomes a gripping, suspenseful piece of cinema.
Berg sufficiently captures the terror felt by the rig’s occupants as it was engulfed in flames. Each time an explosion occurs, we’re left in the audience thinking the worst has passed. However, then an even bigger explosion lights up the screen, and I’ll be honest, my mouth was agape at the sheer spectacle and horror of it. Having already previously admitted my ignorance on this topic, I started questioning whether or not any of these characters would even live. That’s definitely a testament to how well each person’s story was told in the span of Deepwater Horizon‘s 107-minute runtime.
The very, very end of Horizon delivers what I thought was the biggest gut-punch of the movie. Without revealing spoilers, we’re given a very real and raw yet awkward interaction between two traumatized characters, followed immediately by another involving only one character. I do wish the film dived into the aftermath of the explosion a lot more than it dove into oil rig speak in the first hour. I was intrigued enough to see the U.S. government’s investigation and hearing, and how our characters interact through that period. Nevertheless, we’re witness to a mostly captivating feature that’s meant to be experienced in theaters.
Although the emotion behind Deepwater Horizon was rather rare, Peter Berg directs another enthralling true story brought to the big screen with very strong visuals and terrifying real thrills. Our characters feel rather ordinary in the pantheon of disaster films, but this was an actual tragedy that occurred to ordinary people, forcing them to do extraordinary things in the face of fear and possible death. I say this flick accomplished its goal by the end, and I look forward to Berg’s next collaboration with Wahlberg: another real life tragic yet heroic story covering the Boston marathon bombing titled Patriots Day.
Need a really, really brief yet comical synopsis of this review? Check out my 10 Second Review of Deepwater Horizon below!