On April 20, 2010, the Deep Water Horizon oil rig exploded and caused the largest oil spill in U.S waters. During the disaster, there were heroes on board that helped save the lives of the crew that night.
Instead of focusing on the ecological and economical impact of the disaster, Deep Water Horizon sets its sights solely on the disaster on the rig. The story follows Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and his life during the hours leading up to the explosion and how he managed to survive. For a true story, it has the same setup as a Hollywood natural disaster movie. There’s the lovable hard-nosed boss Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell), the young guy (Dylan O’Brien), the tough female team member (Gina Rodriguez), and the suits who have no idea what’s going on (John Malkovich).
When Mike and the crew arrive on the rig for their 21 day stay, they realize things aren’t being run properly. The project is 41 days behind and the BP suits are willing to cut corners to get the project on schedule. In this case, “cutting corners” could put the lives of everyone on board at risk. Mr. Jimmy and his crew reluctantly agree to move ahead, leading to a massive blowout that turns into a tragedy.
How these rigs work, what exploratory wells are, and what a negative pressure test does is never fully explained. The best attempt happens when Mike’s daughter jams a metal pipe into an unopened soda can and pours honey down it. That’s right! A child’s show-and-tell demonstration is the film’s only real attempt at explaining any of it.
Even with little knowledge about what’s taking place, director Peter Berg is able to illustrate how intense the situation is and the level of danger aboard an imploding oil rig. He puts the audience in the middle of the mayhem. The crew looked like they’re trapped in a microwave popcorn bag and instead of kernels it’s a violent explosion of fire, flaming debris, and bolts.
This is easily the best Mark Wahlberg performance since 1997’s Boogie Nights. Early on, he’s the same Wahlberg from Contraband and Transformers: Age of Extinction. Sometime during the last act, a switch comes on and Wahlberg finds emotional depth in his character. He goes from a caricature to a compelling hero worth rooting for. After years of playing hyper-alpha males, it’s easy to forget Wahlberg has emotional range.
Deep Water Horizon’s biggest issue is not spending any time on the consequences for what happened after the spill and not giving us more Gina Rodriguez. Despite the film’s Oil Rigs for Dummies approach, it manages to tell a compelling story with characters that are easy to care about. It even pulls the best out of Wahlberg. That alone makes the film worth seeing.