The 2010 blowout and explosion of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon resulted in the deaths of 11 crewmen and the largest recorded oil spill in US waters. In other words, it’s the perfect fodder for a Peter Berg helmed disaster flick.
In the fictionalised account of the events of that fateful day in April 2010, chief electronics technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) arrives on the titular rig, already sharing a number of concerns with offshore manager Jimmy “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell) about the safety of the rig. Forced to ignore their instincts due to the urgings of BP company man Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich), early warning signs give way to the inevitable when an under-resourced crew is set upon by catastrophe.
DEEPWATER HORIZON is a film split into two distinct halves, the first filled with foreboding and the latter half a disaster film in the vein of The China Syndrome or Towering Inferno. Between gushing Coke cans and birds striking the arriving helicopters, there are more ill omens than a horror film leading up to the tragedy. What distinguishes Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand’s screenplay is just how procedural the film is, with onscreen text explaining the purpose of complex equipment and voyeuristic way of shooting that is more documentary than blockbuster.
It’s definitely preferably to view DEEPWATER HORIZON in this light, or more aptly a lack thereof, with the perpetual flames actually making this a very visually dark film for the back half of the running time. The other concern is the film’s treatment of women, and while oil rigs are traditionally male dominated industries, it’s very telling how this film treats its scarce female cast. The only two women we see on screen for any length of time are Williams’ wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and Dynamic Positioning Operator Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez). The former spends most of her time helplessly pining, seemingly tethered to her lounge room, while the latter is the only member of the crew to emotionally fall apart, requiring Williams to guide her to safety.
The film’s coda, showing the family’s reactions to the aftermath, is just as fascinating as anything in the rest of the film. Indeed, this could have been an entire film unto itself, styled in the vein of this year’s Sully. We are only given brief indications of the legacy of the event, and its impact on the industry, meaning that while DEEPWATER HORIZON may be thrilled with moment to moment thrills, it is ultimately a well staged spectacle without any real context.