Either see Deepwater Horizon at a cinema on the biggest screen possible with the best sound system, or don’t bother seeing it. That would be my advice regarding Peter Berg’s movie based on the notorious 2010 events that led to the biggest oil disaster in US history.
The film unfolds in classic Hollywood disaster movie style, with Offshore Installation Manager Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) locking horns with their BP overlords, mostly in the form of Donald Vidrine (John Malkovitch) who pressurises them to skimp on safety. Cue the inevitable pyrotechnics after a satisfyingly should-have-seen-it-coming build up.
For sheer visceral, gut-level immersion, the film succeeds admirably. Berg makes excellent use of his very impressive, dirt-under-the-fingernails sets, and the special effects and sound design are tremendous. Performances are good, and even if the film does lurch slightly into melodrama, that’s not really a bad thing in this context. In fact, Deepwater Horizon is surprisingly powerful and moving as a tribute to all eleven men who died, despite mainly focussing on Harrell and Williams. Unfortunately, the film does lapse into cliché during the closing credits by showing footage and photographs of the real people. I know that appeals to some, but I’ve always found it oddly distracting (give or take Schindler’s List, where it worked astonishingly well).
As to the hideous greed of BP and their culpability in the tragedy, little is made of that once things start blowing up, although a postscript reveals that the two men most directly responsible had their manslaughter charges dismissed. Obviously BP had very good lawyers, and one suspects that another story – one of corruption and legal nit-picking – still needs to be told.
For now however, Deepwater Horizon is a gripping and intense piece of work. But if you are going to see it, for goodness sake see it on the big screen.