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Deepwater Horizon Review: An Uninspired Disaster Movie

By  · Published on September 15th, 2016

Deepwater Horizon Squanders All Of Its Assets

This Disaster Movie Brings Little To The Table.

Hitchcock famously said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “To build suspense, you don’t simply set off a bomb. You make the audience watch you place the bomb under a table and wait for it to explode.” Right from the start, we know how Deepwater Horizon ends, the anxiety-inducing explosion Hitchcock referred to is baked right into the premise. For the first half of the film, director, Peter Berg, foreshadows the disaster. Berg teases out the numerous breaches, cracks, and ruptures which set the tragic events into motion. Somehow Deepwater Horizon finds a way to squander all of the story’s inherent tension. The end result is an action thriller that is light on thrills

Deepwater Horizon tells the real-life story of the infamous BP oil spill. Taking place off the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010, the facility’s explosion created one of history’s largest man-made environmental catastrophes. Mark Wahlberg plays blue collar dad Mike Williams. Just by the sheer force of his Mark Wahlberg-ness, Mike comes off as a cross between a blue collar dad and John Rambo (not that he does much Rambo-ing here). Kate Hudson shows up as Mike’s Wife, Felicia – it’s disappointing watching Hudson transition from rom-com darling into concerned mom roles. When will Hollywood start churning out better roles for women who have hit their mid-30s?

Mike, Senior foreman Jimmy (Kurt Russell), and plucky young Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) are all tasked with ensuring the Deepwater Horizon crew’s safety. Standing in their way is penny-pinching BP company man Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich). Vidrine’s villainy stops just shy of mustache twirling. It turns out BP’s cost cutting has finally caught up with them. Had BP invested just a bit more time and money into taking precautionary measures they could have avoided the ensuing disaster. Berg spends the first half of the film setting the stage for the catastrophe, once disaster strikes, Deepwater Horizon morphs into a survival thriller.

Lazy filmmaking employsexposition dumps to move a plot forward and explain character’s motivations. It’s much easier to have characters say something than show you something. Deepwater Horizon gets points for at least trying to have its action inform its characters. Rather than just have someone say Mike is a family man, we spend some time with him and his wife while they’re at home operating in baby-making mode. Similarly, we meet Andrea as she is rolling up her sleeves getting dirty under the hood of a car. These are excellent starting points for the characters, however, these humanizing elements are dropped later on. Once things begin blowing up, men and women start screaming, and the camera gets hella-shaky, much of the Deepwater Horizon’s crew become indistinguishable from one another. People go from point A to point B, but their personality has no agency on how they go about doing so. While these sound like minor nitpicks, they’re the difference between saying, “Is that person going to make it,” and “I want that person to make it.”

Considering how much time Berg devotes to setting up the action, it’s inexcusable that the film packs so little dramatic heft. During the first half of the film, a large portion of the dialogue consists of technobabble. Men and women buzz around the rig reading meters, spewing difficult to follow gobbly gook. Reciting mechanical details doesn’t help us empathize with these people once their lives are on the line. Sure we care about the characters so far as we aren’t all sociopaths and we don’t want to see human beings die. As far as movie characters go, they feel disposable. Deepwater Horizon could load up on drama and tension by slowing down, locking in on a few characters, and really fleshing them out.

At times, the second half of the film works on a purely visceral level. I quite enjoyed Steve Jablonsky’s score. The soundtrack isn’t just loud and intense, it’s something I may listen to outside of a theatre (it would feel right at home on a workout playlist). The sound mix on the explosions is out of this world. My teeth rattled every time something went kaboom. A couple white-knuckle segments had had me tightly gripping my armrests. There is a synergy between the heart-stopping explosions and the thumping score that reminds me why I love going to the movies. These amped up moments are the closest the movie comes to dishing out solid thrills. I can only imagine what Deepwater Horizon feels like in 4D seating.

Deepwater Horizon lacks the fun found in big dumb action movies, the suspense found in thrillers, and the emotional heft found in dramas; it just floats in a humdrum middle ground. Even with a competent director, solid cast, and large budget, the film fails to leave a lasting impression. Considering the disaster’s lasting impact, a film chronicling those events should pack some genuine emotion. Sadly, it doesn’t. Deepwater Horizon doesn’t wallop you with a clenched fist so much as it slaps you with a soggy napkin. If you just want to sit back and watch things go boom, you could do a lot worse than this movie. However, if you’re looking for something more engaging than this shamefully average time waster, do yourself a favor and skip Deepwater Horizon.

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