Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Friday, February 22, 2019

Movie Review: "Deepwater Horizon" overflows with action but lacks thematic depth

Photo from Lionsgate. 

On April 20, 2010, the oil rig Deepwater Horizon had a wellhead blowout, causing the rig to explode and turn in on itself. It truly was a chaotic, tragic experience not only for the Gulf of Mexico and its wildlife but also the workers of the Deepwater Horizon – exactly what the film written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, directed by Peter Berg has attempted to encapsulate. Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and the crew of the Deepwater Horizon, contracted by BP, are set to work for 21 days on the oil rig. However, after boarding the rig, they are informed that the rig’s drill was not properly checked for 100 percent safety. Ultimately, what follows is the consequences -- a blowout so large that the burning rig could be seen from satellites. After 87 days, the loss of 11 souls and 210 million gallons of oil later, the spill mercifully stopped by capping, thus effectively killing the well. Still, the event is historic and will serve as the basis for exactly what not to do in the future.

As for Peter Berg’s film, it will not go down in history – a worthy attempt but an attempt at what, exactly, is the main problem. There is no lasting message portrayed by the film other than a solemn tribute to those who died aboard the oil rig. The deftness required to craft a film with intricacies and multiple plot lines converging in on the Deepwater Horizon simply is not there. Wahlberg does a perfectly adequate job serving as a protagonist many can root for but the cast of characters is lacking not far after his introduction. Somehow, the film that wanted to pay tribute to those devastated by BP Oil’s hasty mistakes fails to demonstrate the journey of the departed and their tragic end – which would have made for a much more powerful, accusatory film. Instead, there is screen time lost to humanizing Williams and not-so-subtle references to the American flag, which has little to symbolism when thrown in the middle of an action sequence, and the importance of oil in today’s ever commuting society.

Subtlety proves to be a hard thing for Peter Berg to convey as he tragically misuses close-ups in a feeble effort to convey intensity. Although cinematography and shot composition should not be the main concern for a big $156 million budget film, the mistakes by Enrique Chediak are glaring at least on the microscale; his overhead, gaping shots of the Gulf, Louisiana marshes, etc. are certainly wallpaper worthy. While the inundation of close-ups may not appear to be a large fault, it dumbs down the importance of these vital shots. Next to an unnecessary abundance of close-ups, there is a continuous style of rapid cuts/editing, more likely than not for the effect of pacing and a sense of pressure. However, this works against itself and against the actors – this style leaves the actors with little room to work, and shields them from displaying cursory emotions in dialogue, a necessary trait to disavow unseemly exposition.

All the negatives taken into account, the film does something well that all Wahlberg-starred pieces tend to do: action and tension. Although it is not traditional action but more so the traversing of disaster, it is done well and with a controlled but chaotic handle behind the camera. Tension is a combination of not necessarily acting but writing, editing, and directing in a fusion that is often difficult to complete with success. Deepwater Horizon’s tense moments managed to elicit audible gasps and profanities throughout the auditorium.

Rather than adding more to the story that already exists, audiences follow our protagonist so they can attempt to feel a connection to the tragedy displayed before them. Though there can be emotional points that feel overwhelmingly tragic, there is a tremendous lack of substance or lasting meaning. Deepwater Horizon comes across as advertised.

Grade: C

Comments powered by Disqus