Deepwater Horizon Explodes with Sincerity
Is it weird that one of my favorite genres of film is ocean disaster? I love Titanic, The Perfect Storm, Captain Phillips, all of them. I love ocean movies altogether. I think there’s a sense of misplaced severity while watching a film where water overtakes the screen. You feel trapped and anxious. My biggest fear in life is drowning, so when my heart starts racing from films like this it’s pretty intense. It’s a rush I don’t get from many other genres.
But Deepwater Horizon is different. It isn’t just an action film packed with CGI and explosions. It isn’t just a movie about a mistake made. Deepwater Horizon is something much deeper than that, no pun intended. The true story about the 2010 BP oil spill, the worst oil spill in American history, goes leagues beyond what I honestly expected it to do. I expected to see a good action movie with some cool moments of bravery. I left the theater with a swell of emotions rushing over me that I absolutely did not expect to feel.
I left the theater with a swell of emotions rushing over me that I absolutely did not expect to feel.
There’s a brilliant subtlety to Peter Berg’s direction in Deepwater Horizon, and that is not a term that I use lightly. Going into the film I had no knowledge of how oil rigs work out on the ocean or what exactly had gone wrong with the actual BP spill. Leaving the theater, I obviously learned what went wrong, but I also understood it and I can’t stress how important of a point that is in a movie like this. Berg uses the film to educate the audience about how oil rigs work, how blowouts occur, and everything that went wrong in order for the Deepwater Horizon rig to suffer the fate that it did. The characters educate the audience as the film progresses, in a very subtle way. Berg doesn’t bullet point throughout the scenes; he doesn’t throw a “so here’s what you need to know.” He lets the characters not only tell the story, but teach the audience. I felt incredibly proud while watching Deepwater Horizon that I was understanding what the characters were talking about while working the rig. Again, I can’t stress how important this is in a film like this. There have been far too many films I’ve gone into, knowing nothing about the substance, and continuing to feel the dialogue is completely lost in translation. Deepwater Horizon and Peter Berg refuse to let the audience sit there unknowing.
The sincerity of our characters also give the film a sense of passion. Since this is a true story based on a recent disaster, it’s very important that these characters be handled with care and precision, and thankfully from script to screen they were. Our character interactions feel legitimate and true to life. We learn things from our leads, through the actors portraying them, we learn their humanity. This becomes a very important and evident case in one of the final scenes between Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and Andrea Flaytas (Gina Rodriguez). As the rig is on its last legs the two of them are forced to jump into the fiery waters below. In most films this scene would follow a strict pattern of ‘I can’t do it’ to ‘Yes you can’. That’s the obvious direction for a scene like this but Deepwater Horizon takes it to a new level of humanity. The argument between the two about this decision feels real. It feels exactly how someone would truly react in the situation and that brings a new feeling of empathy towards the characters.
The sincerity of our characters also give the film a sense of passion.
Watching these characters go through the motions, being forced to test the rig by the higher ups in Mr. Vidrine (John Malkovich) when they know something is off is frustrating to say the least. The crew of the Deepwater Horizons’ hand was forced, and because of the greed by the BP executives and the need to force deadlines, you can see the whole excursion blowing up in slow motion. There’s an anxiety you’ll feel while watching Deepwater Horizon, knowing that this is a situation that actually happened.
What Peter Berg did with Deepwater Horizon was craft a compelling true story without just making it a dramatization. Of course, I don’t know exactly what happened in the real disaster, none of us do; but what Berg did was give us his telling of the events and do so with a touch of humanity that sometimes gets lost in the flow with films of this nature. Embellishment is something that happens quite often in “based on true events” films, and while I’m sure there were moments it happened in Deepwater Horizon, it never felt like an obvious distraction to “move the story forward.” Peter Berg did something I honestly did not expect him to do. He gave me my first favorite ocean disaster film since The Perfect Storm. Let me point out that this is not a jab at Berg, he’s one of my favorite directors and I think that’s why this is a great thing. Every film, he continues to surprise me.