Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson
Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg team up for a second time with Deepwater Horizon, based on the true events of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Lone Survivor, Berg and Wahlberg’s first pairing, was one of my favourite movies of 2013. The action scenes made me feel like I was there with the characters, and once the action started the intensity did not drop. So when I heard Berg was behind Deepwater Horizon I was intrigued to see how this could transition into a disaster movie.
But it wasn’t the intense action that had me most impressed after leaving the theatre. It was in fact the opening act documenting the build up to the events that allowed me to really care for these characters. As with a majority of disaster movies, we see our main protagonist (Mike Williams, played very well by Wahlberg) at home with his wife and child before being shipped out to start his 20 day shift on the rig. These early scenes with his family felt natural and not too over the top with speeches, slow motion kisses or any other kind of cheesy goodbyes. When Williams says goodbye to his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) it’s a quick kiss, “see you in three weeks”, and that is it. This is something that happens on a regular basis for these characters and this shines through here.
Aboard the rig is when the whole movie kicks into gear, and once again it isn’t the action that pulled me in. Berg and the screenwriters do a brilliant job of bringing in the politics of decision making between the leader of the crew performed flawlessly by Kurt Russell, and the blue collared key figures of British Petroleum, headed by the magnificent John Malkovich. There is no holding back in making BP the true enemy of this story, which should be applauded as the movie could have focused more on the disaster itself than the politics behind it. During some of these stand off scenes we see two experienced actors truly stealing the show with some really intense confrontations. I was so hooked into the characters and story at this stage that the portrayal of the disaster itself felt like the cherry on an already well baked cake.
The character development during this section is well scripted, everyone seems very natural with not too many cheesy lines that regularly turn me off with disaster movies. Characters seem to have little traits and small pieces of personality are put on show that add to their development, and so when disaster strikes I am naturally worried about them. It also helps that I was genuinely unaware of the overall full scale of the oil spill issue coming into this movie.
The pacing of this movie is like a steady curve rising upwards, the closer we get to the disaster the intensity begins to rise and once it all starts, that intensity does not drop for a single moment. Berg, as he did so brilliantly in Lone Survivor, really puts us into the scenario ourselves by not letting up until the closing stages. The cinematography helps tremendously with this with the shakes-cam style, not enough to distract from what is going on. And of course the special effects are very well put together, with the sounds ripping through the cinema. What also helps with this is that every characters decision making throughout seems so natural, there wasn’t a single hollywood moment with some speech or a love interest having that final kiss. It is portrayed as it simply was, a group of people fighting for their lives. And I really felt this.
As we arrive to the final segment before the credits role, a quality amount of screen time is given to the ramifications of the oil spill, the facts of what has happened since, and the losses are paid tribute for longer than usual. This added impact to what was already an emotional film, and certainly will have a lasting impression.
If I had to point out a minor thing here, I would say that some scenes where we have dialogue felt very close and claustrophobic, and could’ve been taken back just a bit to give us some breathing space. Especially in scenes with his family at the beginning where we did not necessarily need these intense close ups. But this is a very small thing that didn’t effect my viewing experiences of this superb film.
Looking forward I really hope to see more disaster movies taking on Berg’s style of not being over-patriotic and constructing scripts that are character driven and focus on the facts. Berg and Wahlberg are pairing up once again in Patriots Day, and despite the title I hope this third movie underplays the patriotic aspect as per Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon. Because if so then we have three outstanding action movies that others should be inspired by.