I still believe the sorely underrated The Kingdom to be director Peter Berg’s best work (it certainly is not the not-quite-superhero flick Hancock), but Deepwater Horizon is right behind it. An intense account of the disastrous Gulf oil spill off the coast of Louisiana that resulted in the deaths of 11 rig workers vies with Green Room for the year’s most brutal watch, and the constant reminder that this violent catastrophe really happened deepens the emotional terror.
Deepwater Horizon focuses on the heroics of a handful of the 120-person crew—Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien), Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) and Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), affectionately known to the crew as Mr. Jimmy; John Malkovich represents evil BP as the too-strongly accented Donald Vidrine.
But Deepwater Horizon is a disaster movie at heart, and the characters matter less than the destruction, which is recreated in confusing, cacophonic, vicious realism. It can be hard to keep up with what is happening outside of massive explosions, pressurized fountains of mud and so much fire, and the film ensures that viewers need not imagine how terrifying the disaster must have been. The closest movie-going experience I can equate to Deepwater Horizon is another brutal docudrama, Paul Greengrass’ United 93; no one needs to schedule that emotionally torturous double bill anytime soon. Do not be scared off by the intensity of Deepwater Horizon, but be prepared for it. The tough watch is worth it.