Deepwater Horizon Review: How to Shoot an Explosion

Photo Credit:
Michael Bay should be ashamed. Director Peter Berg has outdone him with Deepwater Horizon, a disaster movie with a relatively small, intimate disaster contained to the real life oil rig of the same name. After navigating a putrid first act of humanizing cliches (The hero’s daughter is sassy! Everyone on this rig just likes to rib each other! But not in a mean way!), we get to the good stuff. Though I doubt the survivors of the actual incident would call it that, but when your movie doesn’t really end up being about anything but beautifully and perfectly framing large quantities of smoke and fire, it’s hard not to just sit in awe at the sight of it all.

Does it say something about Hollywood that the lives of 11 people are sold pretty much entirely for entertainment purposes (in IMAX no less!) without a hint of successful or meaningful self reflection on the tragedy itself? Most definitely, but the fact is, despite itself, Berg’s film is highly entertaining in spots. The fire finally sparks about 45 minutes in and doesn’t ever really go out. Berg does a seriously admirable job showing both the scale of the disaster and reining it in to show the smaller struggles the people on the inside faced trying to get out, not unlike James Cameron did in Titanic.
Kurt Russell heroically reclaims the crotchety American hero typecast that made his career, adding a hint of nostalgia toward the simple disaster flicks of yesteryear. Mark Wahlberg plays the hero, indistinguishable from the last one he played other than that the sheer noise pollution here forces his voice up an additional octave. Then there’s Jane the Virgin‘s Gina Rodriguez who, sadly, feels like she’s only there to put some variety in the cast, though she does an admirable job with her limited role. But as I’m sure you’ve picked up, Deepwater Horizon didn’t necessarily have to be too picky with its players to get its job done.
And get it done it does. The film stumbles through its set up, but the hour-long disaster sequence is a sight to behold. The film even manages to have one perfect moment of genuine heroism that works partially because it involves none of the A-list stars. It’s a moment that instills enough emotion to carry you through Wahlberg’s exaggerated expressions for the rest of the film.
Still, it’s odd to walk away from a true story film like this without a feeling that the event was explored outside the base facts at all. Berg’s film is almost completely devoid of commentary, as if he just really wanted to show us the event and that’s it. The result ends up being mostly fine, but overall mostly mediocre. There may not be much below the surface in Deepwater Horizon, but when the surface is on fire like this, you don’t really need to pay attention to anything else anyway. Grade: B-
By Matt Dougherty

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *