Peter Berg has a knack for directing blue collar dialogue in a convincing manner. For films like his 2013 survival drama “Lone Survivor,” such exchanges lent the film an authenticity and humanity before its Navy Seals face life-threatening trials. In Berg’s latest directorial outing, “Deepwater Horizon,” the commonplace banter feels more like a counterweight to some of the complex oil industry jargon taking place on a Gulf Coast rig.
For much of the film’s first 40 minutes, the screenplay from Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan overloads with technical terms explaining the operations on the Deepwater Horizon. And even with blatant expository scenes, they still have to dole out some more details in subtitles. It’s wasted air space in the film, which foreshadows the well-known explosion with obvious harbingers of doom. Be it an exploding Coke at the home of protagonist Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) or a BP big wig wearing a tie in the color of their worst level alarm, there’s no denying what’s coming.
Berg sets up “Deepwater Horizon” as an disaster flick, yet he fouls up some key ratios in establishing tension and connection. His energy goes disproportionately to setting up the crisis (roughly 50 minutes), which in turn makes the escape (roughly 35-40 minutes) feels like getting short changed. There’s some decent tension as wounded crew members navigate their way through a literal enactment of the burning platform metaphor, but Berg undermines it with weak characterization and pointless cutaways to Kate Hudson as Mike’s grieving wife back at home.
The film takes an interesting turn in the coda where surviving workers from the Deepwater Horizon rig are greeted in their grief by robotic crisis management professionals. Rather than seeking to ease their pain and embrace the souls who survive, BP adds a thin coat of dehumanization on top of a devastating loss of human life by locking them away from the world in anonymous hotel rooms. These scenes of the battered, tattered employees struggling to cope with the events that just occurred frustratingly dangle the potential “Deepwater Horizon” had in front of us. Were the critique of corporate malfeasance not so toothless, or were the rising action of the film built around developed characters, this lack of resolution might really sting. Instead, it just replicates the numbness of the setting. C+ /