Disoriented. I walked out of the theatre disoriented. Was it the strobe light effect while the power failed? Was it the glass shards being pulled by Kurt Russell out of his own foot? Was it the bone sticking out of a redshirt’s leg? Was it that 11 people died and I wondered how the other 115 on the rig survived?
Deepwater Horizon is a war movie where the good guys don’t have a chance in hell, the bad guys are greedy bastards who were supposed to be on the good guys’ side, and the real enemy is an almost unstoppable 130 million gallons of oil spewing from the sea floor. Deepwater Horizon makes it perfectly clear where the blame for the worst oil spill in history rests: with the money-grubbing assholes who tried to cut corners and lost their gamble. The film is not subtle. It finds ten different ways to show us the choices that led to the disaster. It works.
Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) gets bloody. Jimmy Harrell (Russell) gets bloodier. The stand-in for greedy BP, Donald Vidrine (John Malkovitch), does not get as bloody as you’d hope. They are some of the lucky ones. Deepwater Horizon takes us into the heart of the mess. Tons of mud, oil, fire, explosions, and rag dolls flying all over the screen. It is hard to watch but not too hard to follow. We are provided with title cards and a grade school explanation of the Deepwater Horizon’s mission. They help the exposition fly by so we can get to the destruction faster.
By the end you will have been appropriately beaten down by the disaster. It is a suitably somber end. The survivors are consumed with grief. The restraint shown, especially in the closing minutes, elevates this movie above the Michael-Bay-esque fire show I thought we would see.
Deepwater Horizon is not a great movie but it’s far better than expected. By the time the credits roll your head may be spinning like mine was, especially if you remember that beyond the immediate devastation depicted in the film lies the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, one that ended up costing BP $54 billion in cleanup costs and penalties. Deepwater Horizon makes clear that BP in general and Vidrine in particular got off too easy, but it puts itself in an awkward position by barely mentioning the environmental effects of the disaster, which left me feeling that the movie entirely missed the point.