This is an entirely serviceable, non-threatening, genuinely emotional and relatively exciting disaster movie. It tells the story of the blowout and subsequent destruction of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform back in 2010. We follow three main characters.
Mark Wahlberg plays Mike, the head repair guy on the rig. He’s our everyman entry point into the story. He’s a regular joe, hanging out with the roughnecks on the crew, but adept at management. (His speech rattling off what’s wrong on the rig is hilarious.)
Kurt Russell is Captain Jimmy, the leader of this team, and the local representative of TransOcean, the drilling company. He’s gruff and loveable.
Gina Rodriguez is Andrea, the navigator of the Deepwater Horizon. (Which is actually a free-floating ship! I didn’t know that.) She’s strong but feminine. You know. Exactly what you hope a woman would be in this scenario.
The foil for all this working-class, low-key heroism is, of course, the “suit” from BP, John Malkovich as Vidrine. Vidrine is pushing, pushing too hard to get the drilling done so they can start making money from the well. He comes off a lot like that douchebag from Titanic, always pressing to go faster.
The back and forth between the suits and the working folk is well done, but I wish it had been a little less black and white. None of the BP guys are portrayed as anything but black hats. None of the TransOcean guys is anything but a white hat. I’m fine with most of the fault landing on the BP side (which is my understanding of what really happened) but couldn’t there be more shades in there?
When the heavy mud hits the fan, there is exactly the kind of chaos you expect. The sound design in particular sent chills up my spine. Every time some large piece of metal slammed into some other large piece of metal I couldn’t help but imagine the kind of damage that could do to human flesh. Sure, there’s a little bit of gore, but nothing too dramatic. The possibilities, though, were enough to give me chills.
When, during the finale, the entire rig was consumed in fire, I started to think, “Well, that’s Hollywood for you, making this out to be way more dramatic than it really was.” Then I saw the real footage over the credits. Dang, Hollywood, you really dialed it back didn’t you? The reality was much crazier. So that’s a bonus, I guess.
By the time all was said and done, I couldn’t help but compare this not to another disaster film, but to Captain Phillips. Director Peter Berg seems to be positioning himself as the next Paul Greengrass. That’s a good goal. But he may have a ways to go.