The Deepwater Horizon horizon on April 20, 2010 resulted in the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, with 4.9 million barrels worth of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven crew members lost their lives and another 17 were injured in the disaster. Six years later, the inevitable film version of what happened has arrived, courtesy of Director Peter Berg and Star Mark Wahlberg.
Like most disaster films, including the also based on true events The Perfect Storm, Deepwater Horizon spends the first half of the movie getting to know the ship’s crew. It’s a ragtag bunch, stocked to the brim with a supporting cast featuring Kurt Russell, his step-daughter Kate Hudson, Dylan O’Brien, John Malkovich and Gina Rodriguez. Most of the characters have one or two shades to them, but little else. Malkovich’s main trait is the hypnotic, Cajun dialect he uses, which should be the actor’s normal voice all the time. Horizon isn’t something like James Cameron’s The Abyss, which is full of fleshed-out characters. No, getting to know the crew is Horizon biding its time until things hit the fan.
Shady computer graphics aside, wow do they hit the fan.
Based on a New York Times article by David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul, Deepwater Horizon stays close to the actual events. Certain parts – like beefing up Wahlberg’s role as Electronics Technician Mike Williams – are fictionalized, because the movie wouldn’t work otherwise. But in reading the article, the reality was far worse than what’s portrayed in the film, which was handcuffed with a PG-13 rating.
Director Berg is on a roll with true life tales, having last helmed Lone Survivor and the upcoming Patriot’s Day, both starring Wahlberg. Berg chooses to focus only on what happened before and during the explosion, giving the crew the spotlight. It’s a smart move, though it reduces the film’s plot to, “people arrive on the boat, the boat explodes, people must get off the boat.” Berg likens himself as Michael Mann-lite, though his over-reliance on shaky-cam, even in small, intimate scenes, can be overwhelming. Personally, the director’s addiction to using shaky-cam left me nauseous during Hancock. At least the shaky-cam doesn’t get that bad in Horizon.
The fact that Deepwater Horizon is based on a true story lends a bit more terror to what’s happening on screen. When the rig blows, it’s a literal hell on earth and knowing that people went through that in real life makes the action scary, not exciting. The additional layer of this really happened lifts Horizon above standard disaster pics like Twister, San Andreas or any Roland Emmerich film. Deepwater Horizon could use a little fleshing out, but it’s still a solid piece of entertainment.