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Review - 'Deepwater Horizon'

Review - 'Deepwater Horizon'

Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon is a hollywood-ized depiction of a real-life tragedy; which might have been a bad thing in the hands of less capable director. Though the film depicts the event in a bombastic and larger-than-life way; it never forgets to respect its characters and the men and women of which they are based upon.

Deepwater Horizon is based off of the 2010 oil rig disaster itself and not so much about the resulting oil spill that plagued the gulf. The movie follows the team of workers and there heroics as they tried to contain the problem and escape the rig.

This film will make you dislike corporations, particularly BP, and the way they value cutting costs over human lives. I can't stand watching true events like this when all it would have taken to stop it was a little less greed. Eleven people died because of money, and before this film, I don't think that was touched on to the extent that it should have been. Sure, the oil spill was highly publicized, but it seemed like the oil-rig workers were thrown in the same basket as the BP executives; as villains that were causing irreversible damage to the gulf. I appreciate that this film focuses on the workers that were forced to fight for their lives and were only there in the first place to do an honest day's work. Up until this film, I had no faces or names to attach to the disaster. My only knowledge was pictures of a rig with billowing smoke, photos of miles-upon-miles of oil-tainted water and numerous articles about how BP was in big trouble. So, kudos Peter Berg.  

I do have one issue with Berg's treatment of the characters though, and that's the fact that he shows some of their deaths and sometimes graphically. These are real people that have passed away, and some of their deaths are shown in a way that would make it hard for people who might have known or were close to the deceased to watch, especially since this event took place only six years ago. I felt like one of the deaths in particular was exaggerated for cinematic effect, which just seems kind of icky to me, even if Berg's intentions were true.  

I'm thankful that this film tells its story in real-time. I know that seems like it would be a given; but I've been watching an increasing number of films that fall back on flash-backs, flash-forwards, dreams and recollections. The most recent film that did this was Sully, and though that film was good, it just got annoying to try and keep track of the story. I liked the linear nature of this film as it allowed characters to develop organically, and I cared more about them when the disaster actually happened.

The film is also great at building tension. The rig upon which these workers are stuck on is equivalent of a balloon that is inflating passed its capacity ever so slowly and you're just waiting for the inevitable pop. When it does pop and sh*t hits the fan; it feels earned. The actual disaster is so effectively staged because Berg painstakingly showed me what was going wrong that led up to it instead of taking the easy route; which would have been to have the workers spout facts about the rig through endless expository dialogues.  

The cast here is mostly great, save for one very questionable performance. I loved how these actors portrayed real people so convincingly; all of the conversations they have with one another are like anything you might experience at your own place of work. Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams and he's really beginning to flourish as a dramatic actor. The man brings it here, especially in the end when what he's been through finally catches up to him and he just breaks down. Though Mark Wahlberg is a great leading man, Kurt Russel, who portrays Jimmy Harrell, gives the film's best performance. If I had any say in the Academy I would nominate this man for a best supporting actor award right now. Gina Rodriguez plays Andrea Fleytas, and she also holds her own in some pivotal character-defining scenes. Finally, we have John Malkovich. I'm so confused as to what kind of accent he's going for in this movie but it's very distracting and borderline hilarious. I didn't buy his character, not for a second, and whenever he was on-screen it almost derailed the realistic tone of the film. Think of a corny comic-book villain with a weird voice and you have Malkovich's character in Deepwater Horizon

The effects in this film are done just about perfectly. I know fake fire when I see it, but the explosions and resulting clouds of smoke and flame were conceived so well that I pretty much believed that they were actually there. The sound design is also phenomenal; you can hear everything going wrong with the rig in un-nerving detail. The use of sound moments before the disaster really helps ratchet up the tension. My one issue lies with the way the film is shot. Berg employs his typical shaky-cam techniques here, and while it does make you feel more immersed in what's happening, it's also hard to tell what's going on from time to time.

Deepwater Horizon is an effective re-telling of the catastrophic disaster in the gulf. The movie intelligently focuses on the people involved and their lives instead of giving it a political spin. Despite having some Hollywood moments along with a very questionable performance, the film succeeds, mainly because it shows audiences a different side of the disaster that initially seemed to have been swept under the rug.

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