In 2010 the floating oil rig Deepwater Horizon, largest on the oceans, was being used by the oil company BP from its owner Transocean in the Gulf of Mexico, but what one of their employees Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) did not know when he woke up one fateful morning was the amount of trouble that operation was about to cause. He had his breakfast, and listened to his daughter perform an impromptu version of her speech in school about what her daddy does - tame dinosaurs by drilling for their remnants under the sea, according to her - and sets off for a few weeks aboard the rig, where he will keep in contact with his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) over the internet. But the signs are not good...
The habit of recreating true life disasters was one which for a while was the provenance of television movies, but come the twenty-first century the interest in bringing genuine stories to the big screen where movie stars could act being ordinary folks was only heightened, with this version of the Deepwater Horizon explosion merely one of many. That said, it did not have as large an audience as the studio would have hoped, and was considered a disappointment, nowhere near the hits that Wahlberg's other efforts in the same vein such as The Perfect Storm or Lone Survivor had been, the latter also directed by the super-patriotic Peter Berg who was making this sort of flagwaving his forte by this time.
Yet how could that be when such a large amount of those to blame for the disaster were American? Berg got around this by positing the real villains as BP executives who pushed the rig far past its capabilities, though at the time this was made there was by no means a single, clear cut reason for the catastrophe as the legal ramifications were predicted to last decades. That's no good if you want to simplify the situation with a goodies versus baddies narrative, so the film cast John Malkovich, that actor so well known for playing everyday, salt of the earth nice guys as you don't need me to tell you, as the man who seemingly alone among his peers brought down the rig with his unreasonable demands to stay on schedule.
Fair enough, you don't expect complete historical accuracy in a Hollywoodization of a news story, but there was a sense that anyone without the inclination to do some digging and read about the actual events would watch this and consider themselves an expert thanks to what was a loose approximation of the facts, at best. For the first half, Berg did present this as a "just the facts" account by dint of his cast spouting jargon at one another, which rather than have the effect of rendering the tone more authentic, merely obfuscated the truth with a soap opera drama made more gritty by emphasising the blue collar nature of what it considered the heroes in this tale. Also, and this really was unfortunate, it made you impatient for the rig to explode so something would happen other than chat.
Macho chat, at that, as the film emphasised the men's men demeanour of the oil workers, with the sole significant female aboard, played by Gina Rodriguez, initially seen behind the wheel of her muscle car to make her look like a tough cookie, only it breaks down and she can't fix it, a foreshadowing of how she would need a man to save her come the last half hour. We were invited to be satisfied that Malkovich gets gunged by mud when the disaster kicks off, but sad that Wahlberg would be crushed by a steel door, something he recovers from with superhuman ability, then thrilled when the explosions start as what was a disaster movie good for but spectacle? Then after we had our adrenalin pumping, we had the reminder that eleven men died to make us feel sad again, but after what was essentially an action flick, this did come across as cheap: little wonder many oil workers had reservations about this production. It was well-organised, but considering the environmental disaster was barely touched on, not an industry crisis individual to that gulf, the effect was dishonest. Music by Steve Jablonsky.