I’ll be honest. I walked into the theater wanting to hate "Deepwater Horizon."
There were a lot of reasons. I grew up on the Gulf Coast and have plenty of friends and families that lost businesses as a result of the oil spill that lasted for 87 days and caused slime balls to wash up on shore at seemingly every beach between Texas and the Florida panhandle. So there were personal reasons.
There’s also the fact that Mark Wahlberg is in the movie, and I think he’s just the worst - not as an actor, but as a human being. Don’t believe me? Look up his thoughts on 9/11 or his fake feud with the NFL. Hell, try one of his brother’s awful burgers. I know at least a few of you are excited about a Wahlburger’s location opening in downtown Raleigh, but I’m sorry. You’re just wrong.
Want to know what eating Wahlburgers is like? Imagine McDonald’s followed by one of the New Kids on the Block watching you try to beat horrible diarrhea in a race to the toilet. Anyway, on to the movie. My biggest concern was how the story was going to be told.
A quick history lesson: the "Deepwater Horizon" was a floating oil exploration barge that was anchored about 40 miles off the Louisiana Coast.
The vessel itself was owned by a company called Transocean, but it was contracted by BP, who owned the well that was being drilled. BP officials encouraged Transocean’s crew onboard the "Deepwater Horizon" to ignore the alarming results of various safety tests.
As a result, on April 22, 2010, the vessel exploded and the well started pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It took 87 days to cap the well. When it was all said and done, nearly five million barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf, and 11 crewmen were dead. Director Pete Berg would almost assuredly make this a human interest story, but the story of "Deepwater Horizon" isn’t one about the human condition or a thriller. It’s a horror movie.
So here’s what we get. Mark Wahlberg plays a guy from Mississippi that at some point has inexplicably acquired a Boston accent. This is what I mean about Wahlberg being the worst. There are other big names in this movie: Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson and John Malkovich to name a few. They all at least try to pull off varying versions of a Southern accent.
Wahlberg just isn’t interested.
So Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, an engineer about to leave his family for three weeks to rejoin the crew of the Deepwater Horizon, which is way behind schedule and over-budget for BP’s liking. When he, his boss Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) and safety monitor and rig operator Andrea ("Jane the Virgin’s" Gina Rodriguez) find a number of systems offline or dangerously underperforming, the BP executives on board don’t care. They want to move forward with the final tests and start pumping oil and making money.
The executives are played by John Malkovich and Brad Leeland (Buddy Garrity from Friday Night Lights). I can only imagine they were told to deliver their lines as if they had just tied a helpless damsel to train tracks. They are awful. So the crew pumps, the safety systems fail and all Hell breaks loose. Here’s the thing though. This is actually a pretty good movie.
I mean sure, there is plenty to hate about it, like the unnecessary shots from “inside the pipe” and a scene where Mike’s daughter practices a “what my daddy does for work” speech that ends with a coke can ominously exploding.
Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god! I bet that will mean something later!
The strength of the movie, though, comes after the explosion, because in that moment "Deepwater Horizon" really is a horror movie. It’s terrifying to watch crew members battle, their goggles soaked with raw crude, to find any usable exit. It’s horrifying to watch men left behind by the final lifeboat.
The only problem is that the explosion I guess gave Mark Wahlberg’s character superpowers. Also, it makes him suddenly way more intelligent than he was before. But I guess that’s why the movie begins with a title card that stresses the movie is based on actual events rather than claiming to be a true story.
"Deepwater Horizon" did a great job of capturing all of the moods on that vessel. Before the explosion we hear the jovial conversations about LSU football between the low-ranking crew members and the absolute disgust with BP by the more senior officers.
After the explosion, we experience the terror from different characters in ways that are more compelling and intelligent than someone looking off into the middle distance and lamenting aloud his daughter’s wedding that he’ll never get to attend.
As I stated earlier, I really did not want to like this movie. I expected that Peter Berg and Summit Entertainment would take an event that wrecked havoc on the lives of people and an area of the country that I love and turn it into a Steven Segal movie, but you know - “based on a true story.”
And look, there are plenty of people in the drilling industry and family members of "Deepwater Horizon" crew members that think this movie is disrespectful to the men that lost their lives, and there is definitely an argument to be made that is the case. But what we get tries to stay true to the events that unfolded and the emotions of the people on board.
In that way, it’s a better outcome than I think anyone expected.
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network.