Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson
Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Date: September 30th
If anyone can turn a giant drilling rig into a jingoistic statement, it’s Peter Berg. The disappointment is that he doesn’t go there, but the surprise is that he does apply restraint, grounding his film in a relatively mundane but mildly overwhelming blue-collar reality that serves to make his eventual firework display mean something.
To be fair to Berg, he’s always been good at the build-up. His exceptionally dark debut Very Bad Things effectively set the scene before copious amounts of bloodshed joined the party, the highly underrated Welcome to the Jungle charms from the opening sequence and even something as questionable as the ode to macho American supermen that is Lone Survivor does the whole calm before the storm thing quite well, even if violent posturing and tone-deaf lines like “You can die for your country, I’m gonna live for mine” ultimately scupper the entire affair.
Despite reuniting with Mark Wahlberg and painting a brief-but-effective portrait of a red, white and blue family in the early going, Berg’s account of events in 2010 that led to the largest environmental disaster in US history wisely sidesteps obvious schmaltz and bull-headed statements. Deepwater Horizon, named for its eponymous rig, boils down to grunt work, bureaucracy and language so technical and context-specific that the average audience may grow impatient long before Marky Mark does his hero thing. This is confident filmmaking from Berg, landing us in the mire like it’s our first day in school.
You sink or swim as Wahlberg and an ever-grizzled Kurt Russell (fast approaching official cinematic icon status in his late-career renaissance) bounce off red tape bullshit in the form of John Malkovich’s gloriously slippery Southern Dandy dickhead and get on with their unglamorous work much like the crew of Ridley Scott’s Alien did before chaotic disruption came their way. There’s no grand monster here, just good old-fashioned human arrogance, greed and neglect. If anything, Deepwater Horizon slightly runs out of steam as the pistons burst to the more relatable elements take a backseat, but Berg brings superb technical expertise to his set pieces.
You feel the confusion, the fear and the impact. One character, having been knocked off his feet with the kind of force normally reserved for a shotgun blast, simply asks,“What happened?” as he barely acknowledges the fresh shrapnel sticking out of his chest. It’s not easy to go big when convention calls for it and still retain a sense of authenticity but Berg is up to the task, having seemingly learned from his last dreadful effort at sea. Better still is a Captain Phillips-esque moment in which shock and trauma takes hold, admirably placing vulnerability high above stereotypical alpha-male bullshit. Even Kate Hudson, she of one of the single worst filmographies in recorded memory, does fine work in the standard underwritten ‘concerned wife’ role.
Much like The Grey, anyone expecting ‘Mark Wahlberg VS an oil rig’ will be disappointed. As with Liam Neeson’s stunning meditation on mortality, they’ll enjoy something better. And hey, we’ll get Wahlberg taking on a gargantuan inanimate object yet. Hollywood, baby.