If you want to see ‘Deepwater Horizon,’ watch it on the big screen. Let’s be honest, disaster movies are better viewed at the cinema. The bombast and spectacle can be fully appreciated and you can ignore the usual flaws of the disaster film (i.e. poor characterization, not knowing what’s going on when the disaster happens, etc). Viewed on the smaller screen, ‘Deepwater Horizon’ would be less spectacular and hard to decipher. If you’ve seen a disaster movie before, then nothing in ‘Deepwater Horizon’ will surprise you. It’s a by the book disaster that less than adequately entertains.
If you haven’t heard about the 2010 BP oil spill, then this movie will explain how it happened. In great, technical, precise detail. For the first forty five minutes of the film, we are overloaded with technical talk about the eponymous drilling rig. It’s hard to follow and simply boring at times. Characters swap complicated jokes about the awful state of the oil rig like they’re reading it straight from a script. Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell are the heavy hitters, dialogue and character-wise. Even they seem shoe-horned in to their characters, sticking to their acting safety zone. There’s a woman who’s a main character as well, but she hardly makes an impact. We learn little about the characters outside of Wahlberg’s, and even his is the typical family man at the centre of a disaster (frequent Skype calls to his loving wife, etc). When the disaster starts to happen, it’s hard to feel anything for the characters.
It was difficult to connect with any of the characters. Wahlberg played the everyman worker as well as he always does, but never rose above that. Russell spoke gruffly and provided some humour. But I never cared about whether he survived or not. As with any disaster movie, there had to be a villain. John Malkovich provoked the most reaction with a character. He played a villainous BP executive (according to this film, BP executives were at fault for the disaster…but the post-credit script told us they got away with it. Bastards!). Effortlessly, he made me hate him.
When the disaster starts to happen, it is spectacular. All the typical omens crop up along the way before the mud bursts through the pipes (a coke can explodes at the dinner table, characters follow orders that they know will cause an accident, etc). But when the mud, fire and explosions start happening, the film bursts into life. It’s expertly crafted…until the fires and explosions continue happening and the direction makes it difficult for us to follow the action. It’s hard to understand where the main characters are on the oil rig, for example. Everything looks the same covered in mud and fire. Set piece after set piece happen, until it merges into an incomprehensible blur. And was it just me, or was the entire sub-plot about starting up the back-up generator reminiscent of ‘Jurassic Park’ (and someone wailing ‘they left us! They left us!’ reminded me of Spielberg’s film as well)?
Apart from a few mud-drenched birds, ‘Deepwater Horizon’ only shows us the human cost of the oil rig disaster. The death of eleven people is regrettable. But the resulting oil spill was the largest in the history of U.S. waters. At the post-script before the credits, the film reminds us that the oil spill was an environmental disaster. It flowed for 87 days and leaked an estimated 4.9 million barrels. It directly impacted 68,000 square miles (180,000 km2) of ocean. Just check out the internet for more details. I feel the subject matter would be more appropriate for a documentary that would cover both the oil rig disaster and the oil spill. Instead, the entire incident is treated like fodder for a popcorn movie. Is that entirely appropriate? And don’t believe that BP was entirely at fault for the disaster, as the film would have you believe. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier apportioned 67% of the blame for the spill to BP, 30% to Transocean, and 3% to Halliburton.
By the time the disaster in the film was over, I was exhausted. It was technically impressive, but never anything more. I wondered why. The soundtrack begged you to feel something. But the emotions never came. It’s hard to balance spectacle and emotion, and ‘Deepwater Horizon’ was 99% spectacle and 1% emotion. The characters were soundboards to explain what was happening. They weren’t to be cared about. That simply fact made all the mud, fire and explosions impressive, but ultimately empty. If you like disaster films, see this one at the cinema. On the smaller screen, the spectacle will be smaller, and the glaring flaws will be larger.
VERDICT: 4/10. ‘Deepwater Horizon’ is a typical disaster movie that puts spectacle before character. When the disaster hits, it’s impressive to observe, but never tugs at the emotions.