Based on the 2010 explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that took 11 lives and caused massive ecological damage on a near unprecedented scale, here’s a Mark Wahlberg movie directed by Peter Berg. It’s actually very good; see Lee’s review below.
Oh, the exploitative buck calls again. Another disaster in human history, another proven consumer base in the number of newspapers that sold that week, and so another big-budget cash-in to keep the cynical moviemaking machine consistently whirling into 2017. “Real heroes”, the advertising touts, and although many of us know the story, many of us also don’t know the full story and it’s time for some thorough repurposing to check the big themes of a three-part structure and an audience’s desire for movies with messages.
Yet, Deepwater Horizon manages to be different. Sure, there’s a message: fuck BP. I’m surprised they got the rights to the logos and names; aren’t these things often big battles? Maybe BP saw this one as a losing battle no matter what and threw up their arms in defeat. The message doesn’t really change anything however, or ask us to do anything; we can’t really try persecuting the two men responsible any further, can we? As an audience, what are we to do with the information BP suck as much as we always knew they did? No, it seems more likely that anger is just there because it makes sense for the characters and the writers to be livid in the wake of this horror.
And there’s something brilliant about that. Instead of rambling on and on about how BP fucked this up, or giving us a million speeches on how the big guy fucks over the little guy once again, we spend a little time explaining what could go wrong and what did go wrong before just witnessing scene after scene of, I have to imagine, incredibly faithful portrayals of absolute horror, dread and agony. The film has the confidence to speak with the events that happened, to let the rescues and the positions of the characters make their own statements, and ease off to let the audience make their own mind up.
Sure, there’s a hovering American flag in the foreground of the inferno but, wouldn’t that be true in the real disaster? And I can’t imagine anything being less patriotic than that scene, the images alone stand testament to the destructive ends of the American Dream. What sings louder though is the respect for the courage and integrity of every worker on the rig, keeping each other afloat and genuinely risking their lives to protect as many as they could. Often these stories can be staggeringly hollow, or preachy; not here, and that comes down to some very smart characterisation.
Rather than spending too long focussing on any one character’s home life for any real length of time (though, saccharine dialogue aside, there is a genuine payoff for the five minutes we spend with Wahlberg’s Mike and his family), we quickly dive into the day-to-day interactions of the workers as a collective; their back-and forth, their support for each other, their varying degrees of interest and disinterest in the job ahead all comes across wonderfully real, so that when things start exploding you genuinely want to see every single person get out.
This also keeps us invested when we are met with some of the most dizzying, effective disaster visuals blockbuster film has yet to muster. The Deepwater Horizon is an accomplishment that never feels like an effect, and keeping the inferno in frame almost constantly to the latter half of the film makes it feel wholly inescapable and persistently real as a threat.
Downsides are few; besides being perhaps too much for a lot of audience members to handle (first time I’ve seen people leave the screen all year), there is still the question of authenticity when it comes to this kind of movie. The messages ring true, but to what extent some characters are portrayed as good, bad, heroic, villainous; if we are to take the real life story to increase our tension and connection with these characters as true, we also have to take the fact a lot of this dialogue and decision making sounds a little eschew to have really happened. Which isn’t a huge detractor for the movie, but these questions often can have you doubting the narrative entirely, and that distraction shouldn’t be bothering you when you genuinely want these people to make it out alive.
Still; it’s effective, considerate, surprisingly short and more surprisingly than that, respectful of its audience – it’s an easy recommendation to those with the stomach to handle it.
Granted though, not likely to be a re-watch. Exhaustion is the word.