“Deepwater Horizon” is the latest entry in the “Contemporary True-Story of a Major American News Event” genre. Ripped from the headlines, with a script adapted from a New York Times article, director Peter Berg takes us through the events of April 20, 2010, which resulted the loss of nearly a dozen lives and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Each and every scene in “Deepwater Horizon” drips with drama, even those that take place far away from the offshore oil rig located 35 miles south of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. Seemingly innocent interactions between Mike (played by Mark Wahlberg), his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and their 10-year-old daughter, Sydney, have a dark tone and forced-foreshadowing, including the one we’ve seen in trailers for months – Sydney rehearsing her school presentation on what her dad does for a living. Did we need to see the coke spraying all over the kitchen to get the point?
The entire first hour is very heavy-handed. Deepwater Horizon Chief Mr. Jimmy (played by Kurt Russell) asks one of the executives of oil giant BP to take off his magenta tie because it’s the color that represents imminent danger in the crew’s code system. There’s also conversation upon conversation among the crew members prior to the first explosion regarding the safety of the rig, with arguments about whether drill lines should be tested, once again, as the project to get the rig prepared for drilling is 43 days behind schedule. John Malkovich plays the head of BP, which owns the rig and the oil below the sea. He, along with his phony southern accent, is quickly established as the bad guy.
The first half of “Deepwater Horizon” feels the most fabricated of any of the “Based on a True Story” films of recent years. Once disaster strikes and the explosions begin, the intensity level rises even higher and “Deepwater Horizon” becomes an action movie – with the entire set engulfed in brown mud and bright orange flames. It’s no wonder this film cost a reported $156 million. You do feel like you’re a part of this horrific, out-of-control nightmare.
Berg definitely got the atmosphere right, but unfortunately, he doesn’t give the typically reliable Wahlberg enough to do. The two teamed-up for the much more honorable “Lone Survivor” three years ago, and they’re back together again in just a few months for their interpretation of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing in “Patriots Day”.
As for “Deepwater Horizon”, Berg’s linear yet theatrical approach to this 21st Century tragedy is very one-dimensional: he gives us a story that simply floats along, without any attempt to go below the surface.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Deepwater Horizon” gets a C-.
Running Time: 107 min.