By Michael Kaye
Deepwater Horizon (Review)
I often ask myself why Hollywood makes movies based on true events, and more often than not the answer is pretty simple: they're stories worth being told. I'm not suggesting that every movie based on a true story is great by default, rather that the ones that often make it to the big screen either have historical significance or just shine a spotlight on humanity coming together during times of crisis. The latter is a perfect description for today's film Deepwater Horizon, directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez and Dylan O'Brian.
The movie is based on the New York Times article Deepwater Horizon's Final Hours written by David Barstow, David S. Rhode and Stephanie Saul, and it tells the story set on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded during April 2010 and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
If there's one word that aptly describes my feelings towards this movie, it's "heavy." It's one of the hardest movies I've had to sit through this year, but it's also one of the year's best. Here are my positives and negatives.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
First off, the cast is amazing, literally every performance is Oscar worthy. Mark Wahlberg, while his Southern accent could use some work, does an amazing job playing Mike Williams, the main protagonist of the film. He does so well playing the everyman, even in a scene as simple as talking to his wife, played by Kate Hudson, via skype. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Kurt Russell is at his absolute best when he's rocking his signature handlebar mustache, and the scenes he shares with Wahlberg as the two are trying to escape the rig had me at the edge of my seat the whole time. There's no way I can talk about everyone, so the last person I'll mention is John Malkovich, who plays one of the BP guys Donald Vidrine, and he can be a straight up douche when the scene needs him to be.
I'll be honest, I haven't seen a lot of director Peter Berg's films, but from what I have seen, this is him right in his wheelhouse. I'd like to think he and Michael Bay have been cut from the same cloth, as both have strengths and weaknesses that the other doesn't have. For example, Berg is at his best when he's telling smaller, more intimate stories or movies based on true events. Give him a blockbuster like Battleship and, well, he'll sink. Bay is kind of the opposite, where he's at his best appealing directly to the hardcore action movie crowd. 13 Hours may have been amazing, but Pearl Harbor is one of the world pieces of garbage of all time. It would actually be pretty interesting to see the two of them work together in the future, perhaps they'd learn from their past mistakes and make some kind of blockbuster masterpiece.
The screenplay, written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand is excellent. Overall the movie does feel very heavy, especially once we get to the second half, but before that we spend a great deal of time getting to know the characters. This is important for two reasons, the first one is to provide at least some levity through naturalistic dialogue, as if it was just a day in the life of the workers on the rig. The other reason is in order to get invested in the action, we need to care about the people involved, otherwise the second half is just a bunch of explosions with no meaning.
Speaking of the explosions, the cinematography by Enrique Chediak is fantastic. It'd be in your best interest to see this movie on the biggest screen possible, and if you live close enough to an IMAX theater, PLEASE take advantage of that. That, combined with the editing and the sound design are what make the climax so gripping. I think I'd be willing to change my mind about Peter Berg directing big blockbusters, as long as he continues to work with this crew.
Finally, the music by Steve Jablonsky is just the cherry on top of the sundae. As a frequent collaborator with Berg, he knows exactly what's needed to elevate the movie, without being overly manipulative. There were many moments during the end where I found myself almost shedding tears as Wahlberg and Russell were joining the rest of the crew on the rescue boat.
I'm trying my hardest to come up with at least one negative, but it's just not possible. I could be super nitpicky and say that perhaps the film could have been a few minutes longer, that way we'd spend more time with Wahlberg and his family. Other than that, I got nothing.
Deepwater Horizon is as perfect as you're gonna get within this genre. It's a story that demanded the big screen treatment, and Peter Berg does the story justice, as do the cast and everyone behind the camera. By the way, we're only a few short months away from Berg's very next film Patriots' Day, which once again stars Mark Wahlberg in a true story, this time based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Now I want to hear from you guys. Have you seen Deepwater Horizon, and if so what did you think? Also, what are your favorite movies based on true stories, or which recent events do you think lend themselves to a feature film adaptation? Drop your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for my next review, where it's Disney's turn to tell the inspiring true story about the young Ugandan chess player Phiona Mutesi in Queen of Katwe.