Deepwater Horizon review: a gripping and realistic disaster drama
Film review: Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon is a drama about a real-life disaster: the explosion aboard an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and the subsequent rescue of survivors

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Deepwater Horizon is a drama about a real-life disaster: the explosion aboard an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and the subsequent rescue of survivors


Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Douglas M. Griffin, James DuMont, Joe Chrest, Gina Rodriguez, Brad Leland, John Malkovich, Dave Maldonado, JD Evermore, Ethan Suplee, Jason Pine, Jason Kirkpatrick, Kate Hudson, Stella Allen
Genre: Thriller / Disaster
Country: USA
Release date: September 30, 2016
Cert: 12A
Running time: 108 mins


Re-teaming with producer-star Mark Wahlberg after their collaboration on 2013’s Lone Survivor, director Peter Berg turns to another true story with his latest feature, based on the 2010 oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that claimed 11 lives and became the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Under the circumstances, the film dials down the flag-wavy tendencies that have sometimes characterised Berg’s previous films (seemingly to compensate, his next film is called Patriots Day) and the result is a gripping and realistic disaster drama that stands as a worthy tribute to both the survivors of the disaster and the 11 victims.

The film opens with chief electronics technician Mike Williams (Wahlberg) saying goodbye to his wife and young daughter (Kate Hudson and Stella Allen) and heading out to the Deepwater oil rig, accompanied by grizzled crew chief Jim “Mr Jimmy” (Kurt Russell) and technician Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez).

Once they arrive, they discover that money-driven BP executives – including a Cajun-accented John Malkovich as Donald Vidrine – have decided to forego some vital tests because the project is behind schedule. As the arguments rage above the water, the pressure is building down below and soon the oil explodes into the rig, transforming it into a floating inferno.

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Solid performances – Malkovich is inspired

Wahlberg can play blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth types in his sleep at this point, and he’s on solid form here – crucially, his courageous acts are presented as believable, rather than action-movie-style super-heroics.

Russell is similarly good value as the crew chief, and TV star Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) makes an engaging big screen debut as Andrea. In addition, Malkovich proves inspired casting as Vidrine, especially after he’s drenched in oil and stalks around the disintegrating rig like a monster from the depths.

Berg takes his time on the setup – it’s nearly an hour before the disaster occurs – and even throws in the occasional caption to explain which bit of the oil rig we’re looking at, although an early scene involving Mike’s daughter and a demonstration with a punctured Coke can (recalling Aaron Eckhart and his flaming peach in The Core) tells us everything we need to know.

The destruction, when it finally arrives, is visceral and terrifying, heightened by deliberately disorienting camerawork and some stunning sound design.

If there’s a complaint, it’s only that there’s no room to depict the devastating consequences of the aftermath, but there is at least a nod towards it, with a scene involving an oil-splattered pelican crashing through the window of a nearby ship that was instrumental in the rescue attempt.

Worth seeing?

This is a gripping account of a terrifying real-life disaster, heightened by strong performances, solid direction and a commitment to realism that’s both admirable and effective.

Deepwater Horizon is in cinemas now