Continuing the streak of playing real-life Americans put against all odds, Mark Wahlberg stars in “Deepwater Horizon,” a biopic of the BP oil spill of 2010.
Directed by Peter Berg, Wahlberg and Kurt Russell star as Mike Williams and Jimmy Harrell, two oil workers aboard the titular Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig that suffered from a massive explosion.
The explosion resulted in the infamous oil spill that released millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The film is reminiscent of “The Lone Survivor,” another Berg/Wahlberg biopic that portrays Wahlberg surviving impossible odds, a trend that seems to be taking over the actor’s career lately.
Something that “Deepwater Horizon” managed to portray excellently was the characters. While taking comfort in traditional character roles, such as the rough around the edges boss and the corporate workers hellbent on getting a paycheck, the film benefited from the fact that each person in the film were real people.
The film achieved that blue-collar Americana feel that Berg loves so much, as both films portray the hero as a down to earth hard working American just trying to do his job.
John Malkovich shines in the antagonistic role of Donald Vidrine, a BP official hell-bent on getting the oil with no regard for the safety of the workers on the rig.
This speaks to a larger theme in the ever-present hunt for blue-collar heroism in Berg’s work, as he presents the everyday man as the only one in a group that can sense the danger as portrayed in the pivotal scene where Vidrine is pressing to get the oil tests underway.
In the room with him is Ethan Suplee, portrayed by Jason Anderson, who begins to worry about whether or not the pressure readings they have are accurate. Even though Vidrine is seeing the same readings as Suplee and notes the inconsistencies, he orders the drill tests to continue as he needs to reach his quota.
This is where the narrative gets fuzzy, as the readings are all clear, and the only thing the film blames on the oil explosion is Vidrine’s headstrong need for oil, even though when the tests begin the readings seem fine.
The film would like you to believe that Vidrine, serving as corporate head, fails to see the value in the working man, when the BP spill cannot be simply pinned on just the incompetence of the organization itself but also the human mistakes that the workers made.
After the explosion, the characterization blends seamlessly with portraying the aftermath with realism and vigor. Williams and Harrell eventually find each other and attempt to save as many people as possible. They truly look out for their fellow workers even in the face of disaster.
Another thing the film excels at is the straightforward portrayal of the accidents and injuries of the oil spill. Two moments that come to mind deal with both inside the rig and the surrounding environment.
Williams comes across his coworker stuck with his leg trapped between the broken floor. The only thing that is stopping the man from being able to escape is a compound fracture that is wedged under the metal. Any other film would have overdramatized the fracture, but this film is wonderfully subtle.
The fracture is just a result of the explosion, and the group needs to move it in order to save him. There is no focus on the break itself, no dramatic screaming or tense music. The film allows the drama to excel by presenting the events as realistically as possible.
Then, as a boat is watching the oil shoot like a hose into the sky, a pelican drenched in oil and blinded by the debris erupts into the bridge and flings itself across the room until it dies. Seeing the immediate disruption of the environment shows the very real consequences that seem to have taken a back seat to more current issues. The BP response may have been mocked by South Park and others as too apologetic, but the fact that there were malfunctions in the system not properly addressed makes it very hard to believe that BP got all that it deserved.
Watching “Deepwater Horizon” in its entirety was quite difficult due to the emotional impact that the film perfects. I had to get up and leave the theater multiple times because the film so masterfully presents the harrowing disaster’s effect on both the environment and the families who suffered loss in that time.
Eleven people were killed on the Deepwater Horizon, and the scenes where a father begs to know whether his son is alive or not, or the final dedication at the end of the film, were enough to inspire feelings of grief and sadness, and the fact that as the movie ended I left feeling upset speaks to the incredible emotional impact Berg’s film communicated.
Eric Ryan is a third-year student majoring in English writings track. He can be reached at ER821804@wcupa.edu.