Film review: Deepwater Horizon – Mark Wahlberg excels

“Based on true events”. I can’t think of anything more disconcerting when I sit down to watch a film. When it comes to blockbusters inspired by real-life situations, the outcome can be a poignant movie that captures the heart and emotion of the episode – a la American Sniper.

Unfortunately, films in this genre can also be a disaster from start to finish with a story barely related to its real-life counterpart. You can forgive me then for going into Deepwater Horizon with an air of scepticism, but was it justified?

Photo: David Lee

Photo: David Lee

Thankfully, director Peter Berg (Hancock, Battleship) strikes the right balance between pleasing the movie-going masses and respecting the events that took the lives of eleven people aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Based on the events that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, the story chronicles the courage of those who worked on the Deepwater Horizon and the extreme moments of bravery and survival in the face of what would become one of the biggest man-made disasters in world history.

Mark Wahlberg takes the helm of this intriguing action thriller as Mike Williams, an electrician working on the rig during the explosion. A supporting cast that includes Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich and The Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien bolster Wahlberg’s natural charisma and each of the aforementioned actors give first-rate performances.

The acting from all sides is superb. Mark Wahlberg in particular excels, being one of his best roles to date. His work has been decidedly dodgy over the last few years but his performance here shows just how good he is with the right material.

Nevertheless, at its core, Deepwater Horizon is a simple disaster movie, and carries the genre’s traits to a tee; there’s the obligatory hero (Mark Wahlberg), the boss/politician who doesn’t believe anything is wrong (John Malkovich), the bombastic score (courtesy of Steve Jablonsky) and the damsel in distress (Gina Rodriguez). What it does differently however is focus more on the human elements of the plot – something helped by the fact the scriptwriters had factual events to pick from.

The special effects are astounding, aided greatly by Peter Berg’s often hectic camerawork. There’s very little shaky-cam but the claustrophobic nature of the rig itself is beautifully utilised in low angled shots and sweeping exterior sequences. The scenes showing the rig on fire are so intense you can virtually feel the heat radiating from them.

It almost feels like a documentary, and a very good one at that. The audience is given references throughout the film of Deepwater Horizon’s many functions and the scale of the behemoth is apparent throughout.

Overall, to say Deepwater Horizon is a cracking disaster film feels like a slight disservice to the eleven people who died aboard it in 2010. Having Peter Berg direct was a risky move when looking at his back-catalogue but after a viewing, it’s hard to think of anyone else better suited.

This is a disaster movie with feeling and it’s one of the best films of the year.

Deepwater Horizon rating: 8/10