Horizon makes waves through authentic performances
The word “spill” doesn’t usually bring many exciting images to mind. But when it comes to oil, Deepwater Horizon proves that a spill can have terrifying results.
Deepwater Horizon, directed by Peter Berg, is based a New York Times article by David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul. The infamous BP oil spill dominated the news in 2010, mostly because of its problematic environmental impact. The film gives a detailed account of the horrific blowout that caused the spill.
Deepwater Horizon focuses on the disaster and the events leading up to the oil rig blowout, with little mention of the environmental repercussions, except for a struggling, oil-drenched pelican who flaps helplessly away from the burning rig. But the film isn’t just a mindless action movie. Instead, it focuses on the courageous Transocean crew members who desperately fight to survive.
The film begins by following Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) as they make their way to the ill-fated drilling rig, where they are set to spend the next three weeks. Even during this expository part of the film, tension is high.
Williams and his daughter use a soda can to illustrate the mechanics of a blowout preventer, but the can explodes ominously, spewing Coca-Cola all over their kitchen table.
As they travel to the helicopter that will take them to the offshore drilling rig, cars rush loudly towards the camera, as though viewers are directly underneath them. The BP executives wear magenta ties, the worst color alarm that can go off on a drilling rig, and birds strike their helicopter.
Although viewers know disaster is imminent, the exact cause remains unclear. The film attempts to explain the problem, showing the failed safety tests and disagreements that led to the explosions.
But the heart of the disaster stems from the corrupt BP executives, led by a heavily-accented John Malkovich, who, concerned Transocean is 43 days behind schedule, greedily pressures the crew to start drilling despite failed pressure tests and neglected cement tests.
When the action finally begins, the tremendous special effects—complete with fire, explosions and serious injuries—enthrall the audience. The brown oil shoots up like a geyser, sending those close to it flying, their heads and necks colliding with heavy metal machinery. Every explosion and injury is unnervingly convincing, giving viewers a realistic idea of the tragedy.
In one scene, the camera zooms out from the oil rig, showing a brief image of the flaming disaster against a pitch black backdrop. It was a reminder of one character’s earlier musings that this disaster was a “well from hell.”
Strong performances abound with this star-studded cast. Though some characters, like Kurt Russell’s “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell, were often overshadowed by the enormity of their circumstances, the strong talent ensured the audience remained sympathetic throughout the action.
Malkovich plays a convincing villain, finding a balance between reasonable and terrifying. Rodriguez also draws the audience in with her courage, desperation and panic during the crisis. She bravely sends a distress signal to the Coast Guard despite not having the authority to do so. As she is reprimanded for her actions, the audience can see in her expression that she believes she did the right thing, but simultaneously feels guilty for overstepping her position.
Wahlberg shows surprising range. Throughout the crisis, he remains stoic and heroic, but, in one scene, he is shown curled up into a ball, sobbing on a hotel room floor as his wife smooths his hair.
The acting in the scene, along with the creativity of the camera angle, is phenomenal. As Williams’ daughter slowly approaches, shocked to see her father in such a vulnerable, devastated state, the camera is positioned in the corner on the floor, as though this were a private moment the audience is not meant to see.
Before the credits rolled, a list of those who died, as well as pictures, added to the emotional impact of the film. The list paid homage to those who lost their lives in the disaster and brought a broader perspective to the film, reminding the audience that the disturbing events portrayed within the film were not fictional.
Although it is packaged like a Hollywood blockbuster flick, complete with explosions and movie stars, underneath, Deepwater Horizon’s purpose is historical. The movie educates an audience who might have otherwise forgotten about the Transocean tragedy.
Deepwater Horizon tackles the dark subject of an oil rig disaster respectfully and entertainingly, making it a disaster movie worth watching.