‘Hope Ain’t a Tactic’: Our Review of 2016’s Deepwater Horizon (Spoilers Ahead)

There is every reason to believe, or be led to, that director Peter Berg’s 2016 feature film, Deepwater Horizon, is a clearly-defined man versus nature film. There are certainly enough allusions to the liquid force of dinosaurs, growling in thunder-esque tones, and shots of the ocean to make you think that there isn’t much else.


(clockwise from left to right) Director Peter Berg and stars J.D. Evermore, Dylan O’Brien and Mark Wahlberg on the set of their 2016 feature film, Deepwater Horizon (MoviePedia.co Photo)

Extrapolating from that, much as the film does, it isn’t even about man versus corporate man.

It hews closer to being a story of man and his environment; that being concomitantly inclusive of his fellow man, nature and the technology (and associated safeguards).

Hence, and as the title suggests, hope isn’t a tactic when safeguards and prior precautions exist to solve the problems at hand.

In that sense, and as seemed to be the direction when director J.C. Chandor was attached, there is a distinct purposeful ensemble flavour to director Peter Berg’s take on the Deepwater Horizon incident.


(from left to right) Star Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg attend the Deepwater Horizon premiere during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (George Pimentel/GettyImages.com Photo and Caption)

That being said – and in keeping with our prior experience of director Berg’s filmography in 2007’s The Kingdom, 2008’s Hancock and 2012’s Battleship – we found the following shared trademarks, courtesy of The Independent’s Jacob Stolworthy especially, between them and 2016’s Deepwater Horizon:

  1. Real-life figures and roles facing adversity: Much in the vein of Mark Wahlberg’s oil rig engineer in this film were the US Navy sailors facing the aliens in 2012’s Battleship and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents conducting an inquiry against Saudi Arabia-based terrorists in 2007’s The Kingdom.
  2. Fly-on-the-wall-esque filming technique: Shared with 2008’s Hancock, and its cinema verite-esque technique in particular, 2016’s Deepwater Horizon uses a great deal of shaky-cam and over-the-shoulder photography to convey the space constraints, or lack thereof, in the characters’ present environment.
  3. Quick-cutting in edits: There is a great deal of quick-editing in both 2016’s Deepwater Horizon and 2008’s Hancock, allowing for just enough time to understand the situation developing on-screen.

Please sound off in the comments if you find any further Berg-isms in 2016’s Deepwater Horizon or the rest of the director’s filmography. Thank you.

Berg week is (unofficially) in order. Keep tracking our Twitter feed for more on that.

Barring an exact transcription of the events in the attributed source article by The New York Times, the script, by co-screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, does assign the bulk of backstory and screen time to Mark Wahlberg’s Mike Williams but can’t shake its originally-intentioned ensemble flavour.

There isn’t, necessarily, a clearly identifiable plot or dramatic spine from start to finish but the film is very quick, cutting into its subjectively-interpreted plot without setting-up for very long.

There is also, in what may also be a purely directorial decision, a great deal of foreshadowing in this film: in the form of the Coca-Cola can and honey experiment and, more subjectively than the other, allusions to the ‘well from hell‘.


(from left to right) Star Mark Wahlberg, Deepwater Horizon chief electronics technician Mike Williams and director Peter Berg at the London premiere of 2016’s Deepwater Horizon (VOANews.com Photo and Caption)

Despite the film’s pre-production transition to a Mark Wahlberg-oriented movie, there doesn’t seem to be anyone for him to play off of thereby invalidating any chance of a core acting pair or a relationship in that vein.

The closest to a feeling of culmination that either of the cast get are Mark Wahlberg’s Mike Williams transitioning from a safety-oriented technician and person to one who forgoes technology, when needed, to take risks and John Malkovich’s Don Vidrine who seems to evolve from a stubbornly profit-driven executive to being remorseful, even scared, of what his pressures did to the crew and their oil rig.


Composer Steve Jablonsky at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival premiere of Deepwater Horizon (Zimbio.com Photo and Caption)

Breaking with our near hat-trick of Alien-y score commentaries, composer Steve Jablonsky’s score is especially organ-esque in the film’s post-prologue intro to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. That scene, and its score especially, wouldn’t have been out of place in a documentary.

In the absence of a standalone listen, the score is overpowered by the film’s sound mix – for both dialogue and sound effects – outside of the intro where it functions as both to great effect.


Director of Photography, Enrique Chediak (Ranker.com Photo and Caption)

Barring the already discussed over-the-shoulder and cinema verite techniques present in 2016’s Deepwater Horizon, courtesy of Director of Photography Enrique Chediak, there was an interesting Dutch angle shot, of Mark Wahlberg’s Mike Williams at the film’s end, which quickly aligns itself with the ground; in a similar vein is a shot of the rescued crew starting to pray whilst the burning oil rig looms farther in the background.

Apart from that, there are several close-up pans and tracks of the Deepwater Horizon and its crew as the camera follows them around the facility’s exterior. The underwater photography is largely underwater and, barring one instance, never pulls the camera from the seabed to the surface or back again.

To round off the cinematography commentary, the film has a distinctly Michael Bay-esque aesthetic to it, especially as the film’s heliport, helicopter flight and over-facility photography feel very military-esque as a Bay film might depict them.

Very simplistically, director Peter Berg’s 2016 feature film, Deepwater Horizon, is a film about teams in their environment, verging on disaster as said environments may be, and every event and shot never let you forget that this isn’t one man’s day but a shared effort. Fans of director Berg’s work may find something thematically similar to savour whilst newcomers will find it an interesting entry point into his filmography.

(Whilst the opinions and observations cited above are – unless stated otherwise – the author’s own, the following sources were used to acquire information: Collider.com, HuffingtonPost.com, IMDb.com, Independent.co.uk, Indiewire.com, Mirror.co.uk, NYTimes.com, Variety.com)

Plot and Act-by-Act Analysis:

Plot:an electronics technician attempts to save his team and escape the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Prologue: a voiceover of Mike Williams’ testimony about the Deepwater Horizon blowout over studio titles.

Act 1: Mike decides to head out for the heliport; Mike chooses to board the helicopter to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Act 2: Mike decides to head down to the drill shack; Mike decides to go meet Gordon.

Act 3: Mike decides to accept the dinosaur tooth from Gordon; Mike decides to go with Jimmy to meet the BP officials.

Act 4: Mike and Jimmy decide to voice their maintenance concerns to the BP officials; Jimmy decides to authorise the negative pressure test on the rig.

Act 5: Mike decides to receive Vildrine in his office; Mike decides to tell him about the rig’s condition as he sees it.

Act 6: Jimmy decides to confront Vildrine over the inconclusive pressure test result; Jimmy agrees to run the test on the kill line/sensors instead.

Act 7: Jimmy decides to authorise the resumption of drilling; Jason decides to contain the first mud leak and succeeds.

Act 8: Jason decides to attempt to contain the second leak but fails; Gina decides to send out the mayday call.

Act 9: Mike decides to escape the interior of the Deepwater Horizon; Mike decides to help Dougie and some others escape to the lifeboats.

Act 10: Mike decides to return to the interior to find Jimmy; Mike later chooses to go deeper to find Caleb.

Act 11: Mike and company decide to head for the bridge; Jimmy decides to try and to activate the choke valve but fails.

Act 12: Mike and Caleb decide to head back out to get power back online; Mike and Caleb decide to keep trying until the power supply returns.

Act 13: Mike and company decide to head for the lifeboats but fail; Mike and company choose to track down the emergency life raft instead.

Act 14: Mike and Andrea decide to head further up the rig for a safer jumping-off point; Mike decides to trick Andrea into jumping and follows her off-rig.

Act 15: Jimmy decides to take a roll call aboard the Damon Bankston; Mike and Andrea are brought aboard the ship.

Act 16: Mike and company are taken to a hotel on land; Mike meets his family there.

Epilogue: a montage of testimonies from Deepwater Horizon crew and remembrances for those killed.

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