“Hope isn’t a tactic.”
Besides an awareness that the events of Deepwater Horizon are set some time after that oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico, I knew absolutely nothing about the true inspiration for Deepwater Horizon. What I did know is that Peter Berg made it – a prospect I was somewhat interested in – and that he didn’t spoil his film this time with its damn title, just like he did with Lone Survivor.
Sadly, at about 40 seconds into the movie, the spoilers come thick and fast as you realise the audio playing over the titles is of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) speaking at a hearing in the aftermath of the disaster we are about to watch.
At this point, my expectations were drastically lowered, anticipating that there would be no fear factor, no worry, not even a little “moderate threat” when it comes to the safety of our lead character. Berg virtually announced that Wahlberg is going to be A-OK.
But, there’s this moment about twenty minutes before the credits roll, where you forget all of that and you’re actually worried for Williams and his crew. You’re terrified that our hero isn’t going to make it to the end. It’s at that point that you realise that not only are you invested in this film and its characters, but that Peter Berg is actually a pretty good filmmaker when he wants to be.
Starting mere hours before an explosion that crippled and eventually destroyed the Deepwater Horizon, we see Williams and the other members of his crew – most importantly Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez and Ethan Suplee – board the floating oil rig while the owners of the company, and the rig, are playing fast and loose with safety guidelines to try and get the rig’s timetable back on track.
When the company force the crew to ignore warnings and get to drilling, things go really wrong, really quickly. As an explosion rocks through the drilling platform, leaving literal towers of flame in its wake. It’s every man for himself as they run for lifeboats and safety. This leaves Wahlberg and a couple of others to drag survivors out to the safety of the escape platform and hopefully save themselves too.
Forget all those worldwide Roland Emmerich disaster films we’ve been rolling our eyes at for God knows how long; Deepwater Horizon is, in my honest opinion, the best pure disaster movie we’ve seen in the last fifteen years.
We spend as much time getting to know about the team on the doomed rig as we do with the fire that destroyed it. Each of the important (and not so important) characters in this tragedy are given a fair share of time for us to know a little about them. We see their lives off the rig, their motivations and, most importantly, we get to see them being one of those makeshift families you kind of expect those groups to be in a place like that. It’s enough to get you to give slightly more than a passing shit about these guys, but not so much as to make you think this is going to be some severely underpaced melodrama instead of the action packed disaster piece we were promised.
Once we’re done meeting everyone, the tension is ramped up as we watch and wait for the inevitable to happen. The rig buckles under the strain and we feel the dread in the guys on the drilling floor before all hell breaks loose. We’re worried, but once things start to go completely tits up, we’re terrified for the guys we’ve just gotten to know.
The final act is a thing of beauty. Reportedly one of the biggest stages ever built for a film is burned and broken from every angle imaginable. As fire engulfs absolutely everything, including the sea surrounding the rig, your arse is on the edge of your seat as these men and women clamber for safety in any direction they can. The rig and the flames are the real standout of this show. It’s weirdly beautiful to watch and at the same time absolutely terrifying.
To not mention Mark Wahlberg’s performance would be a little mean. Watching the actor be an actual hero was outstanding; his usual repertoire of larger than life characters doesn’t compare to watching him play Joe Average in an anything-but-average situation and play it well. This is especially true towards the end of the film when more than one scene leaves you with a knot in your stomach and a lump in your throat. Whilst half of that is down to the situation, a lesser actor would have screwed it up completely. Needless to say, I love Wahlberg a little bit more after this one – and I’ve forgiven him Transformers 4.
Deepwater Horizon was a surprising film. Much better than I expected it to be and a much more heroic tale than I thought it was going to get when I swiped my Unlimited Card. An astonishing addition to an ever growing list of great films in 2016.