Turning Tragedy Into Spectacle Is What Makes This Industry ‘Deepwater Horizon’ Understood That.
Taking notes from great films like ‘Towering Inferno‘ and ‘The Poseidon Adventure‘ was a great move from director Peter Berg. ‘Deepwater Horizon’ had the tough task of telling a true story while remaining entertainment. What they did with this disaster movie is incredible. I’ll admit I wasn’t sold on the film going in but the effort put in was remarkable and unique.
This felt like no disaster flick before it; the thrills were authentic and intense.
Director Peter Berg, cinematographer Enrique Chediak, and editors Colby Parker Jr. & Gabriel Fleming somehow made even routine tests thrilling. That’s what stood out during ‘Deepwater Horizon‘. It subverts genre expectations and used to them bait & switch you. This isn’t the cliched melodrama action-disaster films of the 90’s. The tropes of useless romantic sub-plots and generic heroes are gone. What we had throughout was fun action scenes that felt organic and natrually built tension.
“When faced with our darkest hour, hope is not a tactic”
I spoke about the relationship between an actor and director in my ‘Magnificent Seven‘ review and this is another example of the magic that happens when those two click. Like Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington, Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg just get each other. The pair worked together on 2013’s ‘Lone Survivor‘ to great success and now repeat that with ‘Deepwater Horizon‘. Berg’s care for the character Wahlberg played named Mike Williams was outstanding but he didn’t slack on allowing others to shine in doing so.
Could they be 3-0 when they release 2017’s ‘Patriots Day‘? That film will be about the Boston Bombing like ‘Lone Survivor‘ was based on real events and like ‘Deepwater Horizon‘ was. I figured this is the new niche for Peter Berg and his films. But unlike other based-on-true-story movies from this year like ‘Sully‘, Berg found a way to make this enjoyable as a film and still pay respect.
Speaking of ‘Sully‘, the way they tried to villainize the National Transportation Safety Board came off ineffectively. But the way ‘Deepwater Horizon‘ makes B.P. and supervisor Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) the villain seemed effortless. You want to punch Vidrine by the end of the film for what he did and in a true cinematic sense, he should have faced a grim fate but that’s not how it happened in real life.
Moving away from script, actors, and directors, there is massive technical accomplishments here. The cinematography work was truly breathtaking. The wide-shots gave scale of how a tiny oil rig ruined a massive part of the ocean. The jarring camera work disorients you when the action gets heavy. So much work went into it from cinematographer Enrique Chediak. But his work was masterfully edited by Colby Parker Jr. & Gabriel Fleming. They use match-cuts that superbly transition the scenes. Another trick they did very well was the use of juxtaposition between tense and relaxed moments.
With making the film such a spectacle, many will say this is an exploitation of the events. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing. The film industry is about entertainment and money; I believe ‘Deepwater Horizon‘ is highly entertaining and also a bonafide money-maker. Not only that but it has great characters that are simply fleshed out and some of the best CGI disaster effects I’ve seen in a very long time. Simply put, this is filmmakers at the top of their craft.