Deepwater Horizon: Better Than Advertised

Written By Tommy Tracy

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Deepwater Horizon Plot Summary:

The true story of the workers caught in the explosion of Deepwater Horizon and their fight for survival.

It’s safe to say that Deepwater Horizon was not the top of many people’s list for the most anticipated film of the fall. Truth be told, the trailers gave us a glimpse of a very Hollywood-esque retelling of the worst oil disaster in history, something that still feels like a touchy subject even six years later. Surprisingly enough, Horizon ditches the Hollywood trope of over-selling. Instead, director Peter Berg gives us a non-stop, heart-pounding action drama that was very solid from beginning to end.

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The strongest attribute of this film centers on its characterization. It would be very easy for the filmmakers to have half-assed these characters, delivering their backgrounds with expositional dialogue that wouldn’t give us context of their lives. This has happened before (hello, Titanic). However, each and every (main) character is fleshed out to where you immediately care about them and their safety. Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) is outstanding as the leader of this exposition. He’s a bit of an OCD-ridden man; constantly worrying people are messing with his stuff. This mixes well with his family life. We see a man who cares for his family, promising always to return safely, and even bring his daughter home a dinosaur bone. When the explosion occurs, Williams makes it his priority to get everyone to safety, as they are also his family aboard this oil rig.

Kurt Russell and John Malkovich (who I did not know was in this film) are extremely well rounded as two grizzled vets, sharing experiences and expertise with themselves and the others around them. There is a significant scene where the two say nothing, sharing only eye contact with one another. It brings out a fantastic interplay between the two. And while these three can be considered the “main characters”, the rest of the cast is given enough time to receive audience sympathy when their lives are at stake.

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Berg and company give us a nice slow burn to start, focusing the first third on the drama and interplay between the families and people who work on the rig. When the explosion happens, it’s a non-stop thrill ride until the end. This is both good and bad, as the technical mastery and drama are fantastic. Each scene is shot beautifully, and you never know where the action is going to take you next. On the negative side, it never gives you a chance to breathe and catch up until the end credits. I found myself glued to my seat, short on breath and anxious for over an hour, wishing the film would slow down just a tad. Then I realized; no one in this situation had the time to slow down and breathe either. They were fighting for their lives and it made me feel shameful that I was asking so much of the film, which I do not like to feel.

In the closing moments, the issue of blame is thrown around and that may seem very controversial. People are pointing fingers, blaming this person and that country. The term “prevention” comes up a lot and it makes one wonder: could this have been prevented? This is handled with care and class, making this supposed “action-thriller” more of a drama than some would have previously guessed.

In the end, Deepwater Horizon is very intense, beautifully shot and, if you’re into this sort of thing, carries a very good political message. Where characterization has failed many other films of the same genre, Horizon blends it in perfectly. I do wish that it would have slowed down a bit to catch up, but I begrudgingly understand why it didn’t. A film at first glance seemed like a waste of time was actually quite the surprise and worth the price of admission.

Final Grade: 8.5/10