Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan & Matthew Sand
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien
Man-made disasters cause incalculable pain and usually find their root in apathy or incompetence. Both of them play a part in the disaster documented in the haunting and moving Deepwater Horizon. The heroes rise to the occasion amidst an inescapable hell all in the name of profit.
Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) works as a Chief Electronics Technician for a drilling company, Transocean, which has recently been commissioned to drill off the coast of Louisiana for BP. When an integral cement job compromises the integrity of the drilling operation, BP managers tell the company to carry on, only for a massive oil spill to occur.
Based on true events, the end result of what occurred on the oil rig in 2010 has been documented, but it does not take away from the impact of seeing this atrocity occur on-screen. If anything, it serves as a testament to the effectiveness of the filmmaking that it could make moments surprising even if we know the end result. Films of this style thrive by achieving shock value from the details of the pain felt. When seeing the news reports, we know what happened overall, but witnessing the events leading up to the explosion along with giving more backstory to the people involved makes it a heartbreaking experience.
We see this story mainly through the eyes of Mike Williams, as the film begins with his family and the fossil he promised to bring back for his daughter. A moment placed to establish the pain that would occur in this household if Mike were to die. Everything leading up to the catastrophe sets up the rapport these workers have and the work experience accrued, which evidently will not save everyone on the rig. The reason for this disaster does not get left in ambiguity from the very beginning, as it shows the concerns the Offshore Installation Manager, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) presents to the executives. Apathy and incompetence sets in and the stage gets set for the atrocity we will witness.
When the oil spill begins, Deepwater Horizon smartly uses sound to its advantage by displaying the horrors going on. The initial burst of oil has such a large gushing and from that moment, it will overtake the rest of everything we hear. It all becomes a ticking time bomb of what they know will eventually happen and it becomes a game of who can escape. Along with the sound, the environment gets used to the film’s advantage as a claustrophobic feeling emerges from everyone being stuck on this rig. Escape becomes impossible without rescue workers being sent, which means they need to hold out and save as many lives as they can before the big explosion occurs.
As the spill continues, the impact it has on the environment can already be seen in a heartbreaking manner, including a pelican covered in oil trying to make it towards safety. At every turn, we see the destruction this apathy and incompetence produces, but our characters stay at the center. We follow Mike throughout it all, as he serves as our entryway into the story. We can see what occurs in the other spaces where people, unfortunately, lose their lives, but the emotional focus remains on Mike the entire time. We see the tough decisions he has to make and knowing what he has to lose if he dies on this rig. The emotional stakes play out so well in the film, as we get to see who directly gets impacted by this spill.
Cataloging any real-life catastrophe comes with the risk of being exploitative of the lives lost for entertainment value. Deepwater Horizon finds the proper balance of showing the humanity of the situation, unlike other Peter Berg/Mark Whalberg catastrophe collaborations. The determination to survive becomes the focal point of the story more so than the explosions we see in the background. An important distinction to lesser films where characters feel like lifeless vessels waiting for the bad thing to happen to them.
Emotionally taut and effective, Deepwater Horizon gets at the heart of the people involved in the horrific oil spill. The film serves to show the inner workings of what occurred and the heroic actions taken for the survivors to make it off the rig. It allows Wahlberg and Berg to collaborate in something not made solely to glorify the actor but actually shows how this oil spill impacted everyone on-board. By far their greatest collaboration and a stunning experience as we see what begins an oil spill and at what point people know they are doomed. This danger comes with the job, but this catastrophic event occurred because of malpractice, which allows us to direct our anger towards the right people and praise the heroes.