In the wake of “Sully,” all the “based on a true story” movies for the rest of the year are going to have a much harder time making a lasting impact on audiences. First up is Mark Wahlberg’s newest vehicle, “Deepwater Horizon.”
Telling the story of the infamous 2010 BP oil spill, “Deepwater Horizon” follows a number of employees who work both on the offshore rig and for the larger BP corporation, with Wahlberg’s real-life character of Mike Williams front and center. The first half is mostly dedicated to trying to explain how the rig blew out and what led to the tragedy. The second half is about the explosion itself and the evacuation and rescue procedures that occurred.
“Deepwater Horizon” attempts to tell the audience what went wrong, similar to how “The Big Short” and other fictionalized accounts of well-known incidents do so, but it’s never totally clear. For one, engineering jargon is hard for people to understand. Likewise, the ways in which the movie tries to explain these things are written into the dialogue, so if the audience can’t keep up with the fast-paced back-and-forth between characters, it’s easy to get lost.
The first half of the film is admirable though, because it adheres to a sense of realism, as if the audience is watching any given day on this oil rig. The characters act and speak like real people, even if the dialogue is occasionally too clever and timely for its own good.
This disappears in the latter half of the film. After the initial explosion, Wahlberg slips more into usual role as an everyman who’s a little too extraordinary to be an everyman. For example, during the first explosion, he gets hit by a door with the full force of the explosion behind it. He’s fine, of course, because he’s the leading man. But it’s obviously the type of narrative bravado put into the true story because it sells tickets.
As the evacuation efforts continue, the movie also loses its cohesion and sense of spatial awareness. Characters run here or there, barely avoiding explosions and fire, but it’s never clear exactly where they are on the rig or why they’re there. And except for the deaths that are given special attention, there doesn’t seem to be much danger in the situations presented.
Despite all of this, “Deepwater Horizon” is not at all terrible. Kurt Russell does a great job as Mr. Jimmy, the foreman of sorts on the rig. Compared to Wahlberg’s typical one-note performance, Russell is nuanced and thoughtful, never devolving into a boring overly masculine superhero.
“Deepwater Horizon” is also surprisingly anti-Capitalist. Going into the film, I was worried that it might be wary of going after BP, generally accepted to be the bad guys in this situation. But right from the get go, the movie brings attention to their irresponsible maintenance measures, lack of compassion for the rig’s crew and precedence of money over safety. John Malkovich plays BP executive Donald Vidrine with a cold calculation, showing that although his points made capitalistic sense, they’re ultimately cruel and uncaring.
While it may not be revolutionary, “Deepwater Horizon” is far from a bad film. It’s just not very exciting. The action scenes’ visuals are too muddled or too over-the-top to care about in the context of the story, and the story itself isn’t very clear. But there’s a sense to it that against all odds, the human spirit will prevail, and that the big guys need to listen to the little ones who know better.