The movie follows the malfunction of the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig owned by BP that exploded in April of 2010. Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) is a worker who leaves his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter to help inspect the Deepwater Horizon. He is accompanied by Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) and Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), the installation manager on the rig. When Williams and the rest of the inspection crew arrive, they find out that some of the safety tests have not been conducted, and Harrell demands that the inspections be conducted before the rig operates. After the tests indicate a build-up of dangerous pressure may be happening within the rig, Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich), a well site leader from BP, claims that the problems are minor and demands the rig operate anyway. Unfortunately, a catastrophic failure causes an explosion that destroys the rig and forces everyone on board to fight for their lives.
While this description may make the movie seem like it has enough going on to be entertaining throughout, my main problem with the movie stems from the fact that the story doesn’t have enough substance to keep my attention for too long. When making a movie about a natural or man-made disaster, either the characters and their struggles have to be interesting enough to carry the film or conflict has to come from somewhere other than the disaster itself. The movie does not do a good job at addressing either of these possibilities. The characters (expect for one that I’ll get to in a second) are pretty bland, and do little more than make witty comments, use oil drilling jargon or scream over the sounds of the exploding rig. There is little in the way of character development, which is probably due to their being based on real people.
The exception to the overall boring characters is in the movie’s villain, Malkovich’s Vidrine, who is so over-the-top that it’s hard to imagine that this person actually exists. This somewhat addresses the issue of creating more conflict in the movie, but Malkovich feels so unrealistic in his portrayal of the character that it ends up funnier than it is sinister. And while the movie does manage to pick up in the second act, with some really good visuals and excellent sound work as the rig collapses and the crew struggles to get off, it is the lack of caring about the people who are in danger that makes the movie fall flat.
And that’s why it seems like this movie wasn’t really going to work regardless of who directed and starred in it. While the story had a lot of weight in the real world, that didn’t necessarily mean it would translate well to a movie. A movie can’t survive solely on its premise having been in the limelight in the real world. Without having the characters or cinematic twists and turns that help other movies thrive, Deepwater Horizon left me feeling as though a movie about the famous oil spill was completely unnecessary. It’s one of those instances where watching a documentary about the events would be far more interesting than watching the actual movie. While the final product isn’t bad, per se, it’s definitely nothing worth rushing to see.