“When faced with our darkest hour, hope is not a tactic.”
Mark Wahlberg (The Perfect Storm) leads a brave cast as they depict the real life events of a catastrophic oil spill in Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster on April 20, 2010 near Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. This solid Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate film honors the victims of this tragedy with amazing technical expertise. An actual oil rig near Chalmette, Louisiana was created for this recommended film – one of the largest set pieces ever.
Directed by Peter Berg (Hancock, Patriot’s Day), Deepwater Horizon covers this large-scale and tragic event as workers try to leave the rig during the disaster, how their families and loved ones endured and the immediate aftermath. Filmmakers do touch on environmental effects of the disastrous oil spill (210 million barrels worth), which largely occur after this triggering event.
The filmmakers educate audiences to make this mix work, but their technical expertise and realism provide the best tools to viewers who likely already know the outcome of these biographical accounts (e.g. Saving Private Ryan, Sully, World Trade Center, United 93, Titanic, etc.). The screenplay/story, written by Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan based on The New York Times article “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours,” originally published on December 25, 2010, written by David Barstow, David S. Rohde and Stephanie Saul.
The rig was operated by a private contractor called Transocean who drilled for oil on behalf of BP (British Petroleum). Other involved contractors, including Halliburton, are not mentioned here. Audiences can find immense supplementary information beyond this worthy 107-minute work where the technical aspects are set (real life Coast Guard rescue staff used, actual survivors used as on-set advisors, etc.), but something is still missing. Audiences do not get an adequate, more comprehensive representation of the characters and logistical view of the power struggles and inner workings.
This film has a limited time frame for the characters’ development, motivations and designated responsibilities (a mini-series would have allowed enough time) so characters are noticeably limited. Filmmakers spend a good chunk of the first half setting up the relationships, but oversimplifying a corporation’s greedy approach in dialogue is not enough. This approach easily focuses audience emotion towards the boss’s questionable decision-making (without much manipulation) while the heroics (e.g. Dale Burkeen) and understandable fear in the face of death. The text explanations compliment the establishing scenes well as filmmakers capture the enormous machinery to create an effectively grand scale.
Mark Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams who was stationed as chief electronics technician on the rig for three weeks. He leverages his talent and everyman screen appeal while building on his past victories like a memorable, fast paced dialogue segment similar to his comedy Ted (girlfriends’ names).
Kurt Russell equals Wahlberg physicality as supervisor James “Jimmy” Harrell while Gina Rodriguez (TV’s Jane The Virgin) plays navigation officer Andrea Fleytas. The BP “company men” are well portrayed by Brad Leland and John Malkovich who also utilizes an authentic accent. Berg includes a great scene when a worker interacts with one of them cluing the audience into how you treat a “company man”. Jimmy’s position allows him to spare with this dastardly duo more than any character.
Young Dylan O’ Brien, played by rising star Caleb Holloway (Maze Runner) is part of the core drilling team along with the recognizable, but often underrated Ethan Suplee (Hulu’s Chance, Remember the Titans). Kate Hudson covers the home front point-of-view as Mike’s wife Felicia along with her young daughter, played by Stella Allen who has the best comedic relief dialogue in an interior sequence before Mike leaves for his assigned work on the oil rig. Trace Adkins has a very small, but important role that portrays strong emotions from other family members.
The filmmakers keep the action realistic not flashy with considerable suspense as the second half transitions into non-stop action, which features a booming Dolby Atmos audio track that automatically unfolds to Dolby TrueHD 7.1 if viewers do not have an Atmos set up. A Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is also available. At this film’s end, viewers also get real-life footage of this disaster and the people involved, including Mike Williams. The end credits slowly list the names of the 11 people who lost their lives.
The Blu-ray exclusive bonus features showcase “Beyond The Horizon,” an hour-long, five-part series with Wahlberg, Russell, Rodriguez, Hudson, and O’Brien facilitating discussions with the real life heroes along with various film crew. The 18-minute “Captain of the Rig: Peter Berg” does not contain much insight as it showcases the director and his process.
The 27-minute “The Fury of the Rig” is featured on all discs and showcases the set design, amazing stunt work and visual effects that keep the cast and crew safe while retaining the authenticity of the real life events. “Deepwater Surveillance” has 12 short segments showing different camera views in a rough format complete with more text explanations that sets each scene. Anyone with filmmaking passion should not miss this one. The inspirational “Work Like An American” bonus feature features eight stories of real workers including a crane operator, firefighter, iron work and longshoreman. It’s very similar to content on the WorkLikeAnAmerican.org.
This two-disc Blu-ray/DVD package also includes a digital copy code to watch on iTunes or digital HD ultraviolet. Also available on 4K Ultra HD and On Demand plus Red box. Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated PG-13 for prolonged intense disaster sequences and related disturbing images. Deepwater Horizon is also currently nominated for a People’s Choice award for favorite dramatic movie.
Check out the new Deepwater Horizon Virtual Reality (VR) app (iOS and Android mobile) that puts viewers in the same room as director Berg for exclusive commentary from Berg’s editor Colby Parker Jr. Created by SubVRsive in partnership with Lionsgate.