“Deepwater Horizon:” a perfect mindless disaster movie

David Lee

Christopher Walker, Editor-in-Chief

The real-life events of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could have been made into 20 different movies, each approaching the story from different angles. The subject matter is ripe for creative interpretation.

Unfortunately, the first film to come out about the events of that fateful day is a paint-by-number disaster film directed by Peter Berg, a director likely to fill the void Michael Bay leaves when he retires.

Berg (“Hancock,” “Battleship”) is not known for his delicate sensibilities. However, an essential part of mature film criticism is judging a movie not by what we wish it was, but by what it’s trying to be. And “Deepwater Horizon” hits most of the marks it attempts to.  

The vast majority of negative criticism goes to the movie’s first act. The heroes and the villains are too black-and-white; there is little in the way of character development, and the dialogue is hollow and robotic.

The entire first half could have used a different director – one with a finer touch – one with a deeper understanding of people and their relationships. However, as soon as disaster hits, Berg earns his paycheck: the film floors the gas pedal and doesn’t let off until the credits roll.

For a good 50 minutes, it’s explosion and disaster and mayhem, one after another. The real talent, perhaps genius, of Berg’s direction is that somehow the audience is entertained by each and every explosion and mishap. Somehow, miraculously, the senses are not numbed by this onslaught of images and sounds.

The film’s running length is short for a budget this size, clocking in at just over an hour-and-a-half, but it ends exactly when it needs to. Berg knows what you’re here for. After he’s done with the action sequences, he doesn’t see a need to keep you any longer than he needs to.

Do you fault a theme park for kicking you off the rollercoaster immediately after the ride comes to a halt? Maybe Hollywood has finally realized that most people would rather leave the theater than sit around another 30 minutes for a boring final act tying up loose ends for characters we don’t really care about.

While the film does does take creative liberties with the real-life events, Berg is genuinely respectful to the victims of the tragedy without crossing into pedantic territory. He seems to truly appreciate the human lives that were lost in the accident, and he is aware of the potential capitalization of the tragedy and avoids it.

“Deepwater Horizon” is a major Hollywood film that isn’t a sequel and isn’t a superhero movie. These days, it’s rare to find a studio willing to sink $150 million into something that isn’t part of an already established franchise. It’s refreshing to have something with this big of budget be a stand-alone film. 
In fact, “Deepwater Horizon” is one of the better blockbusters in recent memory.