Deepwater Horizon is one of those movies that is very enjoyable to watch while at the same time being hard to enjoy. Not trying to be oxymoronic, but walking out of the theater I couldn’t help but comment on how amazing the movie was from all aspects of film criticism and yet I felt exhausted and abused by the intense story that unfolds over almost 2 hours. Most who see the film will be familiar with the events that occurred six years ago in the Gulf of Mexico. But like the recent film Sully, chances are you will also learn a few new things about the disaster and the people involved. Having recently enjoyed Sully, I can see a pattern emerge in what can appropriately be called “disaster” movies. Where it would be easy to become political and play bad guy vs good guy and take sides, these films have stepped above the easy story to weave a more complicated tale of the people who lived the real life disasters. And that is where Deepwater Horizon really shines, by bringing the audience alongside the drilling rig workers and BP executives as they experience the events that unfolded on April 20th 2010.
We experience the pressures the rig workers feel to produce an operational oil well that is already days behind schedule. We see the interactions of rig management and BP executives as they debate the merits of yet another safety test. We cringe as the first signs of disaster are revealed. And we cry and scream as the disaster is realized and life is lost forever. Having such a strong humanity to the story, selecting the right actors was paramount and Deepwater Horizon delivers for the most part. Mark Wahlberg does an amazing job of playing the hero and Kate Hudson really gives meaning to what a rig workers wife goes through each time their spouse leaves for days away. While I enjoy John Malkovich in most movies (Red being one of my favorites), he is not at his best in playing the BP executive who puts profits before safety. Outside of a few shortfalls, most of the cast deliver a depth of character that pulls the audience into the disaster experience.
With all the elements of the movie combining to make a worthwhile cinematic experience, you may wonder why it’s hard to enjoy. The best way to explain it is that the movie does such a fantastic job of bringing the audience into the day of disaster that you leave the theater having been filled with anxiety and frustration over the incidents that unfold. While the movie does the audience a service by avoiding playing sides (for the most part), movie goers familiar with the story will also leave feeling almost anger over big business holding the almighty dollar in such high regard. Remembering the lies and half-truths that followed the disaster certainly come back in all their evil tenacity to add to your frustrations. All this is to say, you are given a most excellent movie that leaves you feeling a little beat up.
A surprising moment in the film for this reviewer was near the end, as the surviving crew is gathered on the deck of the Damon Bankston. Broken, beaten, and bloodied, the crew bows a knee and head to recite the Lord’s Prayer. A picturesque moment of their attempt to find grace in the midst of such disaster. It serves as a meaningful example of how disaster can remind us of our fragility and humanity, resulting in the need for meaning and ultimately a savior. We pray to the creator, no we cry out in anger, in sadness, and sometimes disbelief. Asking for meaning where for a time we see none. For those who are faithful to follow through, the meaning will come, perhaps not in this life, but in the next.
6 out of 7 – the movie is rated PG13 for intense disaster scenes and a few harsh words. It’s a very worthwhile movie even though you may leave a little worse for wear after reliving the disaster of the Deepwater Horizon.