The 400-Word Review: Deepwater Horizon

By Sean Collier

October 3, 2016

I regret agreeing to this mustache.

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Surprisingly, Deepwater Horizon is a film about work. It’s about the limits of responsibility to one’s employer and one’s employees; it’s about the extent of loyalty in the face of crisis, and how people make decisions when loyalty is torn.

It could’ve been a movie simply about explosions, so it certainly reached a higher mark than I expected.

The challenge in approaching the story of the BP oil spill — specifically, the disastrous breakdown of the floating oil rig that preceded it — is that it’s primarily a tale of corporate negligence and greedy hubris. Sure, there was a cinematic explosion and acts of personal heroism (and, of course, personal tragedy), but the story behind the incident is one of competing interests.

In Deepwater Horizon, though, those conflicts are compressed and brought onto the great vessel — and, in a bit of inspired casting, they’re mostly presented by Kurt Russell and John Malkovich. As Jimmy Harrell, the Horizon’s captain, Russell is the embodiment of blue-collar tenacity; Malkovich, as BP heavy Donald Vidrine, cascades a perfect Creole drawl over lazy-eyed disdain for the concerns of the crew. The scenes where the two go head-to-head are perfect, and as compelling as any later scene of chaos.


The story, however, belongs to Mark Wahlberg, as Mike Williams, one of the true heroes of the disaster. Wahlberg is something of a limited performer who has often benefited from appropriate casting; when he’s asked to carry a project, he frequently exposes his weaknesses. Here, however, he rises to the challenge, exceeding his normal capabilities and giving Deepwater Horizon a relatable, familiar center.

Saving a ho-hum, obligatory subplot about Williams’ wife (an unremarkable Kate Hudson) and daughter, the film maintains a steady, driven pace throughout. Its first hour is a detailed and fascinating portrait of life aboard the rig; the focus is on conflicts with BP, yes, but screenwriters Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan also elegantly educate the audience on day-to-day existence on a jobsite where disaster is always possible and the real world is stunningly remote.

In its second half, Deepwater Horizon does turn into a disaster movie. But it does so without losing its overall narrative thread. This is not a movie simply exploring heroism and tenacity in the face of adversity, like Sully was a few weeks ago; this is a film that steadfastly tells a true-life tale honestly and quite thoroughly.

My Rating: 8/10



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