With a pretty underwhelming trailer, this initially didn’t grab me. I couldn’t “get” the tone from what I’d seen, as in I just couldn’t grasp what sort of true story this was going to be and if was going to be a sole survivor story. However, I’m glad I took a chance and ignored the marketing because this turned out to be one of the best films this year.
Knowing the basics of the disaster in 2010, I lapped the whole film up. From seeing an American oil industry I knew nothing about except from what I’d seen in ‘Dallas’ and ‘Dynasty’, this was a really interesting area to convert into film. I understood how dangerous it is, how intricate it is and how profitable it is. With wonderful expansive shots and framing by cinematographer Enrique Chediak, a real sense of understanding by director Peter Berg and a real talented cast, I was invested from the start.
The behemoth that was the Deepwater Horizon rig looks super on screen. I’m sure the CG/practical sets are there somewhere but I couldn’t tell; it’s seamless from off-shore to the rig itself. We spend the first hour with a selection of crew, with Whalberg leading the way but equally important in sharing time with the brilliant Kurt Russell, the fragile Gina Rodriguez and the perfectly frustrating John Malkovich as a narrow-minded BP rep. This is a cast who know how to act to be honest; they have that likeability factor needed for us to accept them, understand them, respect them and feel for them during the course of the film without it being dished on by a trowel. Their relationships and personal feelings aren’t played out with melodrama for us to remember later; they are just ordinary men and women doing a job like anyone else in tough circumstances – that’s enough for anyone to respect.
And it’s a brilliant contrast in tone pre and post blowout too thanks to a gentle but increasingly tense first hour. Bombarded with oil jargon carried along with our crew is fine, because we see things going wrong. We know what’s going to happen, we just don’t know when or how. And it’s not just the drill pressure that builds over this hour, it’s the pressure on our senses building and building too. As the time ticks on, so does the suspense. And when it hits, it hits hard.
Gone are the gentle camera shots and steady editing; we are thrown into the disaster as best we could with disorientating light and noise, hellish colours, snappy editing and claustrophobic chaos. Seeing these good people face the wrath of human nature is awful to watch; it’s relentless and it’s brutal. When phrases come up like “his bone is resting on the pipe”, it’s nothing but a grim situation but the characters we invested in are the ones we are right behind here, willing them to survive. The CGI is also remarkable; I couldn’t really tell anyone what was real and what wasn’t because it was all blended so well with practical and stunt work. Our actors really go through the mill here and it’s easier to believe in them doing what they do.
The shots of the rig billowing mud and debris and then fire is stunning and scary in equal measure. While some moments made me question if it really did happen that way or if moments have been enhanced for the “entertainment” factor Hollywood likes to inject in these things, I couldn’t be sure. Moments towards the end felt a little bit too heroic for me…but then, if it did happen, what the hell do I know. It just means the survivors deserve even more respect and those who lost their lives deserve to be honoured. It also doesn’t pull punches in reminding you who the real culprits of the disaster are too.
A touching closing few minutes really hit home after the “spectacle” of the climax is over, and we see through more stellar acting the results of such a tragedy and how, once again, these people are just like you and me with families and friends who pull together in the face of adversity to move forward as best they can. A very touching, important well-made film that deserves to be seen by all.