If there’s one thing the start of the fall movie season can ensure, it’s a firesale on Oscar bait. While everything about Deepwater Horizon may not exactly be first class — there are some questionable effects — but director Peter Berg definitely puts everything he’s got into it. Even though Battleship is unforgivable, the man knows how to deliver an ensemble pic — see Very Bad Things or Friday Night Lights — which could be from his being on E.R. But if there’s one thing to be sure of, while no one has been able to forget the BP oil spill, it’s about time those involved were given their due.
If there’s one thing about Deepwater Horizon working against it, it’s the set up. Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War Z and Berg’s The Kingdom) and Matthew Sand (Ninja Assassin) devote way too much time building up the story. While I thought the surprisingly short 107 minute runtime would fly right by, it starts with a sluggish pace. Berg wants the film to feel like a powder keg just waiting to ignite, but the fuse is way too long. By the time we finally get to know everyone on board, it’s obvious what’s coming. Thankfully, the wait is worth it, with Berg letting loose the fireworks, pitting us all in the midst of the raging inferno. Terrifying is the only word to describe it.
The cast are all at the top of their game — Wahlberg finally is once he kicks into hero mode giving Mike Williams the humanity he deserves. Kurt Russell gives the growly Jimmy Harrell way more depth than you’d expect as the man knowing their sitting on a heap of dynamite waiting to blow. John Malkovich gets the rare chance to play the truly vile human being Donald Vidrine. Dylan O’Brien gives a better performance here than he ever has as Caleb Holloway and Gina Rodriguez squeezes in a fantastic portrayal of Andrea Fleytas. The film never takes its focus away from the horrors aboard the Horizon and doesn’t exceed into the litigations that followed. Deepwater Horizon is a film about human endurance in the face of tragedy and Berg delivers one of the most unflinching looks at a disaster of the first order.