Published Sep 28, 2016Before its highly publicized explosion, the BP-leased oil-drilling rig Deepwater Horizon was heralded as the leading exemplar of rig safety — enough, in fact, for it to be left off of inspector watch lists. When it blew in April 2010, the explosion killed 11 onboard and injured 17 others, on top of causing the biggest oil spill in history. Six years on from the incident, Peter Berg puts BP square in the crosshairs with Deepwater Horizon, dramatizing the greed and power of the oil and gas industry and telling the stories of those involved with a believable cast.
Coming together to work with Berg again following Lone Survivor, Mark Wahlberg stars as Transocean engineer Mike Williams, who leaves his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter behind to work on the rig. When Williams' unflappable manager Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) and fellow Transocean employees are visited by the icy Donald Virdine (John Malkovich) and his crew of BP executives, they're put on edge by Virdine's blatant disregard for failing machinery and incomplete safety checks in the name of turning a profit.
Berg hasn't left much room to dumb down the technical dialogue between his characters, largely allowing snippets of ominous deep-sea drilling shots and failing CGI machinery to create a sense of tension instead of speech. As lacking as that can be at points in the early going, it isn't essential that the viewer has a firm grasp on mechanics or the industry at hand to feel it.
The torturous escape from the flaming rig dominates the back half of the film, pitting the can-do attitude and selflessness of Wahlberg's character against shots of flaming wreckage, explosions and further mental and physical barriers other characters face. These elements could have easily pushed the film into over-the-top action territory, but they thankfully don't.
In continuing to push any unnecessary subplots out of view, the film closes with the shock upon the return of Wahlberg and company rather than a teary, emotional homecoming. That only helps Deepwater Horizon fix its gaze where it should: on the corporate bodies that were able to clean their hands of this mess far too easily.