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Deepwater Horizon – Movie Review

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Deepwater Horizon – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

With Lone Survivor, director Peter Berg tackled a real life event with tension and uncertainty, despite the facts being well known. Deepwater Horizon continues that style of filmmaking to similar effect and part of why it works is the general camaraderie the audience sees before things turn sour. While there is a bit of obvious creative license, the film mostly keeps the events relatively plausible and the result is involving enough to make one forget they are watching actors on a screen. Berg is able to keep the excitement and nervousness level up and takes full advantage of the sound system as he engulfs the audience in the terror of the situation.

The first act of Deepwater Horizon primarily exists to show the workers on the oil rig just doing their work and conversing like one might see in a regular office environment. There is an emphasis on Mike Williams’s home life early on as the audience sees some genuine morning routines with his wife and daughter. These scenes are the most documentary-like of the entire movie. Berg establishes the various departments and personnel in a way that will pay off when things go horribly wrong. It also allows one insight into why the oil rig employees and BP officials made the decisions they did. The only true villain in this is the oil and fire that eventually erupts around everyone.

Peter Berg brings a lot of intensity to the next two thirds of Deepwater Horizon, showing every blast with the most brutal force imaginable. When the oil bursts out of the pipes and the rig workers go flying, the physical strength of that blast is felt all over. This is conveyed through both the tight knit quarters of the oil rig and the incredible sound mix. Each level of the complex rig has a distinct sound design, with some portions being more appropriately muffled than others. It encompasses the audience and when the fire is raging around, that uncomfortable heat is felt. This is the sort of film that needs to be heard on the best surround sound system to get the full experience.

The natural presence of the characters also works thanks to the actors. Despite the casting of recognisable names like Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell and John Malkovich, they are bought as representations of the real-life people. Wahlberg never turns Williams into some beefed up action hero and his reaction to the dangerous situation he finds himself in is one most people would have. It almost takes a while to find Malkovich underneath the BP shirt and that’s partly because he doesn’t resort to his usual acting tics and mannerisms. Berg also makes the smart decision to occasionally cut to Williams’s worried wife and Kate Hudson brings some needed emotion to the role.

Deepwater Horizon could have run the risk of turning this terrifying real event into a typical action blockbuster. However, Peter Berg has more than proven himself a director who allows characters to make the explosions more impactful and he knows he’s treading on sensitive ground here. The workplace-like environment of the earlier scenes are pivotal in making the second half of the story more intense and allowing us to connect with the individuals. With a strong production team backing him up, Berg delivers an exciting film that deserves to sit alongside his Lone Survivor as a proper way of bringing tension and even making the creative licenses feel plausible.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison