Deepwater Horizon (2016)
Directed by Peter Berg
“Deepwater Horizon” does to BP what I imagine “13 Hours” was trying to do to Hillary Clinton and her State Department. It paints a portrait of thoughtless, money-driven executives who prioritize profits over protection. It eviscerates them. And in doing so, “Deepwater Horizon” becomes a disaster movie with all the societal impact of an Oscar-grubby drama.
The chemistry between Mark Wahlberg and Kate Hudson, as husband and wife Mike and Felicia Williams, is immediate. Mike is an engineer on Deepwater Horizon, an oil drilling rig off the shore of Louisiana. He’s leaving today for a 21-day job, where he’ll work, eat, and sleep on the semi-submersible behemoth. He’s not alone. 125 other workers are on board, including his boss Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) and a few big wigs (including John Malkovich) there for a visit. The project is a month overdue, and time- and cost-saving measures are looking nice to the execs. But cutting corners leads to a leak that builds up so much pressure, none of their failsafes can stop the flow.
Director Peter Berg, taking a page from the Paul Greengrass playbook, sets up an ultra-realistic procedural, complete with technical industry jargon and quick, conversational, realistic dialogue. Everyone is focused on the task at hand. Mark Wahlberg gives what is easily his best performance since his last Berg movie, 2013’s “Lone Survivor.” Gina Rodriguez, playing a young engineer, brings the talent that earned her a Golden Globe to her first role in a major feature film. The only one who lost me was John Malkovich, whose accent was an inconsistent blend of Texan and Jamaican, all barely concealed under Malkovich’s own distinctive cadence. Regardless of any individual’s performance, though, the chemistry between them all was strong enough to heighten the tension already created by the knowledge that this was based in truth. The cast was big enough to spread the focus and not put too much pressure on anyone, but small enough that we cared deeply about each of them. Writers Matthew Sand (“Ninja Assassin”) and Matthew Michael Carnahan (“World War Z”) created real human characters with little intricacies.
“Deepwater Horizon” does exactly what it sets out to do. Its masterfully recreated oil rig—both the solid set pieces and the post-production CGI wizardry—mixed with the human character study makes “Deepwater Horizon” one of the best films of the year.