Director Peter Berg has been making films for nearly 20 years. In that time, his career has been rather hit and miss, delivering decent films like “Friday Night Lights” and “Hancock” in his first decade, while unfortunately giving us forgettable spectacles like “Battleship” and “Lone Survivor” more recently. Even though he was in the middle of a downward swing, this hasn’t stopped him from putting out not one, but two films in 2016, starting with “Deepwater Horizon,” based on the true story of the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history. As we saw earlier that year, Clint Eastwood was finally able to pull out of his downward spiral with “Sully,” but could 2016 be Berg’s comeback year as well?
In April 2010, Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), a specialist on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig leaves home for a three-week stint at his job, leaving behind his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter. Upon arrival, he and his boss, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), are baffled as to why certain safety tests haven’t been run, with the problems only being made worse due to interference from a visiting BP representative, Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich). The tests are eventually run, bringing back some very questionable results. However, Vidrine insists that there’s nothing wrong, explaining away the results with the simple fact that there’s no mud coming up the line. He convinces the men to move forward with their work, but soon after, a disaster occurs in which several pieces of equipment fail, followed by an explosion that sets the oil on fire. Now it becomes a fight for survival as the multitude of workers try to find their way to safety amid the chaos all around them.
“Deepwater Horizon” is one of those slow builders that starts off by taking us through the calm before the storm. The screenplay, co-written by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, takes its time by introducing us to the characters and basically just showing us how these were regular people going about their regular job on a day that seemed just like any other. There may be those that feel this approach is a little too slow, but as we will soon see, this characterization is absolutely vital when it comes to the latter half of the film.
But before that happens, Berg and co. present a middle act that skillfully delivers high amounts of tension merely by having the crew initiate the safety tests that should have been done well beforehand. We already know something is wrong via multiple shots of the crumbling foundation, but the question quickly becomes, when will the crew figure out that a disaster is imminent? Add to this the compelling character conflicts and the seemingly reasonable explanation of the tests, and you get a situation that becomes even tenser due to the false sense of calm that has been patched over it.
While the first half of the film had been a compelling character drama, the second half becomes not only more of this, but also a special effects extravaganza. If you think back to “Battleship,” this was the point where the audience pretty much gave up hope because the characters hadn’t been developed at all, leaving them as flat and lifeless cannon fodder for the aliens. However, thanks to the excellent character development in the first half of “Deepwater Horizon,” we easily continue to be engaged in the situation as they struggle through explosions, mud, fire, and debris (all done marvelously by the excellent special effects team) in an effort to get to safety.
It’s a heart-pounding, emotional ride that includes a top-notch ensemble, featuring Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, and Kate Hudson. Throughout his career, we’ve seen that Berg has gravitated to a number of films that require multiple effects, and while the last two didn’t quite work out all that well, it’s great to see that his efforts here resulted in a fine telling of this mesmerizing true story of survival. Looks like 2016 did indeed end up being the year of his comeback as well, for with its compelling story, engaging characters, and outstanding special effects, “Deepwater Horizon” puts his talents fully on display once more to deliver a gripping and emotionally-satisfying drama.
“Deepwater Horizon” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The picture is perfectly sharp and clear throughout the entire presentation, which does a great job of showing off the film’s multiple impressive special effects. The Dolby Atmos audio is equally impressive, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and score in excellent quality. Overall, the film looks and sounds fantastic, leaving you with an incredible experience in both areas.
Beyond the Horizon (51 Minutes): A fascinating series of interviews with and about five of the principal cast members, including Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, and Kurt Russell.
Captain of the Rig: Peter Berg (18 Minutes): A great interview with the director, as well as additional interviews with the cast in which they discuss working with him.
The Fury of the Rig (27 Minutes): A featurette that focuses on the film’s incredible production design, featuring lots of behind the scenes footage.
Deepwater Surveillance (18 Minutes): A collection of footage showing how it took multiple cameras to shoot the film’s action sequences.
Work Like an American: A collection of eight stories of real American workers.
With its sharp direction, well-structured screenplay, and fully-formed, engaging characters, Peter Berg’s “Deepwater Horizon” is a thrilling experience that brings strength and humanity to the powerful true story of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Also featuring outstanding special effects and an excellent ensemble, this is one of those films that kind of sneaks up on you. It may not seem like much on the outset, but by the time it’s done unraveling its incredible story, you just might be surprised how gripping it truly is.