Director – Peter Berg
Cast – Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson
Rating – 3/5
When Peter Berg makes the movies he wants to make, he is an incredibly thoughtful director. But to make the movies he wants to make – movies like Lone Survivor, the upcoming Patriots Day, and yes, Deepwater Horizon – Berg has to pay his dues with movies he doesn’t want to make.
And just like a child being forced to train in classical music when all he wants to do is play football with his friends, Berg, a veteran Hollywood player who has seen it all and done it all, can’t disguise his dismay when he must make a film like Battleship to get one like Lone Survivor off the ground.
Sometimes, very infrequently, a movie comes along with a story that you never thought you’d be interested in. Most of my memory of the Deepwater Horizon explosion back in 2010 is visual, essentially a series of terrible images. It’s difficult to forget the sight of the majestic oil rig up in flames, like some twisted, 21stCentury Titanic, a manifestation of humanity’s swelling, exploding ego. But the spill that followed, and became the biggest environmental disaster in US history, was what caught most people’s attention.
In hindsight, of course there was a story to tell. There always is, even in an act as mundane as pouring yourself a glass of water. And for Deepwater Horizon, several angles, all equally ripe for drama, could be taken. There is, first and foremost, the story of everyday heroism that saved so many lives on the rig, the story of blue-collar family men – and women – who came together and left no man behind as thick sludge turned to fire around them. Curiously enough, Deepwater Horizon is structured closely to Black Hawk Down, another film in which the expertly mounted dread was unleashed in a flurry of tense action sequences.
But tonally, and visually, it seems to be a close cousin of Captain Phillips, the Tom Hanks movie directed by fellow handheld camera aficionado Paul Greengrass. Like Greengrass, Berg knows his way around an action scene, and understands that empty spectacle is worthless, and for any sort of action to have heft, there needs to be drama to anchor it.
The trouble with this film is that it is, as a work of fiction, very derivative – despite being based on several little true stories. There’s no denying that Mark Wahlberg’s character had a wife and young daughter back home, but in a movie, the worried wife has become a stock character, fretting about on a phone, tearfully staring at the TV, hugging her child as they pray for the man of the house to return safely. By making Kate Hudson a stock character, the film does a disservice to the real woman behind her.
But these are small nitpicks. Deepwater Horizon is an otherwise solidly crafted adult disaster film, with fine American actors performing a quintessential American story – a story of corporate greed (John Malkovich is at his slimiest best), and working class regular Joes.
It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but unlike the monumental machine at its centre, works efficiently within its tight confines.