As a staunch supporter of environmental causes, I was quite disappointed to hear and eventually see that director Peter Berg’s latest disasterpiece was no muckraker. Berg spends little time digging deep into the wider corporate malfeasance behind North America’s worst oil spill in history, choosing instead to celebrate the heroism of those on board the ill-fated rig as it came apart from within. This is a noble endeavor as even someone as informed me was taken aback by the forgotten tragedy of several men and women who died, saved lives, or otherwise braved that day.
Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell deliver on their past blue-collar bonafides and convey subtleties that probably weren’t even on the page, such as a no-frills father-son bond between Russell’s responsible “captain” and Wahlberg’s jovial “mechanic.” John Malkovich has made a late career out of portraying the greasiest of big wig greed, and while the bigger picture of BP’s recklessness is largely relegated to blaming just a few old men, this old man’s New Orleans twang and penchant for devilish charm certainly makes it go down a little bit easier.
Berg turns the screws for an hour and change before letting go at the point of explosion, when the proverbial dam breaks and chaos reigns onboard the Deepwater rig. As director of both Friday Night Lights (excellent) and Battleship (execrable), Berg is hit or miss, and that’s evident in the masterful handling of sub-cultural detail and workplace minutiae leading up to the explosion. But after the explosion? Visually cluttered and a haphazard sense of mundanity in the midst of what ought to be an emotionally harrowing experience for audiences. Deepwater Horizon is half a great workplace drama and half a mediocre disaster film.