by Billy Jepma ‘20
Based off of the 2010 drilling rig explosion and subsequent oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, Deepwater Horizon is a dramatized retelling of the headline-making catastrophe. The film succeeds in capturing the overwhelming chaos of the destruction. Unfortunately, however, it misses the mark in crafting a memorable cast of characters.
Mark Wahlberg is a reliable leading man and does good work with what he’s given. However, in the final scenes, he is not given much, outside of a standout moment at least. The script takes so little time developing its characters outside of their initial stereotypes that the audience is given little reason to care about them. This is disappointing, because Deepwater Horizon spends an admirable chunk of its running time to provide an up-close look at the rugged day-to-day routine of the crew onboard the colossal rig. Yet, even amidst all this setup, the script is more focused on building suspense than character, so when the explosions start, it’s hard to feel any tangible drama outside of the powerful portrayal of the chaos.
This is a shame, because there is a wealth of talent involved in the film that is left sorely underutilized. Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, and Gina Rodriguez––the only other characters who receive any substantial attention––give strong performances, but without any depth to draw from they fail to establish any concrete emotional resonance with the audience.
Even though the film ultimately falls flat on characterization, in this kind of man-versus-nature disaster story, that can be easily overlooked if it delivers on the visual spectacle, which thankfully, Deepwater Horizon does in spades.
Director Peter Berg does a fantastic job at capturing the ferocity of the destruction, but still demonstrates a sense of commendable restraint as he spends just as much time showcasing the nitty-gritty character drama as he does the colossal explosions.
Once started, the action doesn’t let up until moments before fading to black. Even amidst the immense terror seen on screen, Berg never lets his audience get lost in the chaos, and maneuvers them through the fiery mayhem with a keen eye for the dramatic. His camerawork emphasizes the shocking scale of the explosions just as much as it does the up-close struggle of the cast, and it does wonders in creating a compelling visual experience, especially when seen on the big-screen.
While Deepwater Horizon isn’t the memorable, emotionally tense thriller it was advertised as, the impressive visual effects and sense of destructive scale are able to mostly overshadow the nearly nonexistent character development, resulting in an ultimately entertaining experience, but one that doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression after the credits roll.