The genre of disaster movie is one that goes back decades, from ‘70s-era classics such as Airport (and its sequels), The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake & The Towering Inferno to mid-‘90s thrillers such as Daylight (a personal favorite), Dante’s Peak, Volcano, Deep Impact & Armageddon to more recent efforts, like a lazily-named 2006 remake of The Poseidon Adventure called, simply, Poseidon. It was pretty good. Fergie was in it.
Though recent years haven’t seen many films of this ilk grace the silver screen, Deepwater Horizon gives the genre a much-needed boost, thanks to a variety of elements and a true story background that hasn’t been seen on this scale (for the most part) since the mighty Titanic decimated the box office nearly twenty years ago. Deepwater Horizon tells the story of the titular oil rig that suffered a catastrophic explosion in 2010, one which resulted in a number of deaths and single-handedly kicked off the horrific BP oil spill which devastated the Gulf of Mexico, as well as most of the surrounding landmasses. With an ensemble cast, a wealth of special effects and direction from Peter Berg (2013’s Lone Survivor, 2012’s Battleship, Friday Night Lights), this is a film that clearly did its homework, both on the event itself and the rules for how to craft a suspenseful disaster film.
The cast works well, with the reliable Mark Wahlberg playing real-life hero Mike Williams and once more bringing his Everyman persona to the role. Kurt Russell equally shines as Jimmy “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell, a supervisor on the rig who largely finds himself partnered with Williams following the disaster, and a fine supporting cast including Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, Ethan Suplee & Kate Hudson as Williams’ wife Felicia all perform marvelously. Even John Malkovich & Brad Leland as the Big Bad BP Executives take roles which would normally be quite cliché-ridden, add a healthy amount of Classic Movie Villains, and ham it up in a way that actually benefits the film overall, assisting the growing (literal) tension & making the genre proud. The only negative mark comes from the sheer abundance of characters at times-while all are based on real people, the film lacks enough of a runtime to devote enough development to each.
From a technical standpoint, Deepwater Horizon is as good as it gets-the special effects, especially during the climactic eruption, look spectacular. Make no mistake-if there was one film to see in a large-format theater, i.e. IMAX, this would be it. When things start to go bad, the volume skyrockets, fully immersing oneself in the situation presented onscreen-needless to say, rarely do I feel like a movie has drawn me in the way this film easily accomplished. Furthermore, when the cast arrives on the rig near the beginning of the film, Berg’s placement of the ever-present sounds of machinery in the background helps to draw the audience in as well, and nicely establishes a sinister crescendo to the big moment. Unfortunately, these traits do bury Steve Jablonsky’s score somewhat, but in a way, it actually works-without a constant soundtrack at times, it only adds to the realism.
Peter Berg has recently mentioned how, going forward, he’d like to focus on adapting true stories to film, particularly following Lone Survivor and with the upcoming Patriots Day seemingly operating from the Deepwater Horizon playbook in terms of look, tone and overall feel. That being said, his last two efforts clearly showcase the growth of his skills, and I eagerly anticipate his projects going forward. Unlike the genre that encompasses it, Deepwater Horizon is far from a disaster.