Titanic for grown ups…
There is a bizarrely specific action film trope in which the male protagonist does something hideously cringeworthy and then calls back to it later on in the film, sometimes repeatedly. In Armageddon, it is Ben Affleck’s refrain of ‘I’ve got five words for you…’, in Face Off it is John Travolta running his hand over the faces of various bewildered family members and Deepwater Horizon succumbs to this embarrassing foible with Mark Wahlberg queasily asking Kate Hudson to ‘show me those eyes’. It is stomach clenchingly awful. This is a shame because aside from that glaring misstep, Deepwater Horizon is actually a massive success.
This true story follows Mike Williams as he arrives for his usual stint on a doomed oil rig. Walhberg is an expert at playing an everyman and he brings an easy charm to Williams that carries the entire film. Alongside Walhberg, is the constantly clashing pair of Kurt Russell and John Malkovich. Crucially, perhaps even unusually for this genre, the acting is exceptional across the board. Russell gives his best performance in years and whilst both him and Malkovich are guilty of chewing the scenery a little, they both have a lot of fun doing it.
Deepwater Horizon‘s greatest feat is to take a complex scientific turn of events and make it manageable for a mainstream audience without having to resort to tons of exposition. The build up is expertly managed and when the action starts it is so much more than just special effects. Director Peter Berg does a great job in portraying what it must have been like on the Deepwater Horizon and the action never feels gratuitous or unnecessarily violent.
A constant problem in these films is the final scene feeling unearned or anticlimactic. Through a mixture of character development and good acting, Deepwater Horizon manages to pack an emotional wallop without being overly sentimental and the entire final scene is excellent, handled with respect and reverence of the real life story.
The action/disaster genre is so often a money making exercise lacking in any real artistic merit. With Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg has set a high bar for the genre to follow. One of the best action movies of the decade.