Based on the April 20, 2010 oil rig explosion that caused 11 deaths and the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon (2016) is a dramatic recreation of what might be remembered as one of the worst days in modern history. Technically proficient and emotionally harrowing, it's basically a condensed version of Titanic with less romance and no icebergs. Mark Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams (chief electronics technician aboard the rig), with Kurt Russell (supervisor Jimmy Harrell) and Gina Rodriguez (navigation officer Andrea Fleytas) completing our trifecta of audience stand-ins during that fateful day.
Trouble stars early once Mike, Jimmy, Andrea, and others board the Deepwater Horizon via helicopter. Before they begin drilling off the coast of Louisiana for multinational gas company BP, Jimmy learns that a critical pressure test was not conducted to ensure the stability of an underwater concrete well. After a terse meeting (punctuated by a rapid-fire tally of failing equipment delivered by Wahlberg, one-upping his list of girlfriend names from Ted), resident BP liaison Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) assures Jimmy that they're in no immediate danger. A test is conducted at Jimmy's insistence...which seems to go smoothly, yet history and the film's poster art remind us that things go south fast. Before the hapless crew knows it, they're waist-deep in mud and a natural gas bubble triggers massive explosions, reducing the massive $560M rig to a twisting, burning mass of steel during the next few hours. It's more chaos from there on out as Jimmy and Mike look for survivors, Andrea tries to contact the Coast Guard, and repeated attempts to plug the leaking well aren't successful. All the while, family members like Mike's wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and daughter learn about the terrible disaster via dramatic news blurbs and short, nervous phone calls.
From a dramatic and technical standpoint, Deepwater Horizon is either average or proficient. The characters are introduced in ways that project their future heroism, with little in the way of development for them or any members of the crew limited to a handful of lines (to be fair, it's only 107 minutes long and takes place over the course of a day). BP oil liaisons like Donald Vidrine, rightfully given the de facto villainous role, are cocksure until doomsday arrives. Establishing shots are littered with exposition to keep audience members fully informed every step of the way. These are all small to medium strikes against Deepwater Horizon...but technically, it's a well-made film. The massive oil rig set is mostly practical and given tasteful CGI enhancements, ensuring the film doesn't look too slick to undercut the realism. Explosions and other action sequences are genuinely well done, racking up strong levels of suspense in relatively short order. In those respects, Deepwater Horizon is most definitely a solid effort.
Counterpoint: I'm usually able to separate real-life issues from any movie "inspired by true events", but it was virtually impossible during Deepwater Horizon. Its outright refusal to address the purely man-made ecological fallout from Deepwater Horizon's 2010 destruction and oil spill---not to mention its refusal to mention Halliburton, one of the primary contractors responsible and one that destroyed evidence during the resulting investigation---is a slap in the face to anyone who actually follows news or remembers events from a whopping six years ago. Unlike Sully, World Trade Center, United 93, Titanic, and just about every dramatized version of a real-life event, the core story of Deepwater Horizon had much different implications that really shouldn't have been ignored. One scene featuring an oil-covered pelican and a quick blurb of text before the credits, quite frankly, isn't enough.
My point? The selective focus of Deepwater Horizon really left a sour taste in my mouth, enough so that it's not one I'll revisit for a long time (if ever). Disaster movies based on real events are a slippery slope...and treated with the right amount of balance and care, they can work either as a thoughtful examination of complicated events or even as a first step towards healing. This purposeful avoidance of just about anything not related to human survival is simply too much for Berg's film to overcome, so one would hope that his upcoming film about the Boston Marathon bombing will be a half-step in the right direction. Bottom line: Deepwater Horizon attempts to neatly package a messy event, and the seams can't help but show. No amount of cool explosions can save it from feeling like a tasteless attempt to salvage heartfelt drama from an unnecessary disaster that spilled roughly 210M gallons of oil into the ocean. If this is humankind's best cinematic response to the event, maybe we just shouldn't have made one.
Either way, subjective movie reviews are only half of my job: I've still got to take an objective look at the A/V quality and extras on Lionsgate's Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Established fans (and those on the fence, of course) will be glad to know that it delivers in just about every department with terrific visuals, a room-shaking Dolby Atmos track, and even a respectable amount of bonus features considering the quick three-month turnaround. It may not be a movie I'm glad I watched---and will likely not improve with age, for obvious reasons---but those who don't mind Deepwater Horizon's glaring faults will get their money's worth.
Presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio, Deepwater Horizon looks excellent on Blu-ray. This crisp 1080p transfer preserves the film's natural appearance perfectly well; there's obviously no dirt or damage to speak of (har har), while black levels and contrast are rendered nicely. Image detail and textures are strong though somewhat diffused at times due to the film's chaotic second half and certain stylistic choices, while the lack of digital imperfections---aside from a bit of murkiness and some obvious banding during one or two underwater sequences---ensures that Deepwater Horizon pushes the 1080p image to its absolute limit more often than not (an UltraHD 4K release is also available separately, if you're part of the next generation already). This is simply a great presentation of difficult source material, translating the film's chaotic atmosphere to the small screen as well as possible.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
Deepwater Horizon is overwhelmingly "dialogue over action" during the first half, but picks up substantially when disaster strikes. This default Dolby Atmos track (which automatically unfolds to Dolby TrueHD 7.1 if you're not set up for Atmos) features a strong amount of low end and discrete channel effects from then onward, with a striking level of dynamic range that's not too overwhelming. Dialogue is crisp and clear from start to finish. Other moments also shine, as sporadic music cues and more subtle background noises are well-placed and effective without screaming for attention. Simply put, Deepwater Horizon is a reference-quality disc for its second half alone, drawing viewers into its horrific atmosphere and rarely letting them catch their breath. A Spanish dub is included (Dolby Digital 5.1), as well as optional English, SDH, and Spanish subtitles during the film and all applicable extras.
I hate, hate, hate Lionsgate's Blu-ray interface. I hate the sluggish loading time, I hate the multiple forced trailers (which you must skip individually), I hate the slow navigation and moving text, and I hate the delayed and practically useless pop-up menu...but at least it has a handy "Resume" feature, so half of those problems are wiped out the second time around. This two-disc package (one Blu-ray, one DVD) arrives in a dual-hubbed eco keepcase; also included is a Digital Copy code and matching slipcover.
A good amount on paper, but not much of genuine interest. The main extra is "Beyond the Horizon" (52:21 total), a standard behind-the-scenes piece divided into segments for five different lead and supporting actors: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, and Dylan O'Brien. Aside from the obvious participants, we also hear from producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, director Peter Berg, producer Mark Vahradian, consultant Mike Williams, and others during this mixture of casual interviews and on-set footage. That said, most of these clips tend to bleed together as they all feature the same handful of participants, back-patting stories, and surface-level comments about shooting, casting, and adapting the horrific disaster into an entertaining movie.
Two more Featurettes are up next, apparently cut from the exact same sessions as "Beyond the Horizon". "Captain of the Rig: Peter Berg" (18:14) is definitely the least essential of the two, as it feels very self-congratulatory and rarely digs any deeper than your standard EPK. "The Fury of the Rig" (27:20) steps it up a bit by detailing set design and construction of the rig used for the film; additional comments by production designer Chris Seegers and other crew members are also included, as well as a glimpse of the visual effects used to supplement the set. More extras like this one would've been a step in the right direction.
Up next is "Deepwater Surveillance" (12 clips, 17:40 total), which presents a handful of alternate static angles from different "action cameras" used during the filming of a dozen scenes, including the multiple blowouts and resulting chaos. These clips are presented in rough, uncut format (1080p with no post-processing) and, more often than not, give viewers a more accurate representation of the on-set filming experience. In most cases, there's also on-screen text that introduces and explains these 12 scenes.
Last but not least is a series of "Work Like An American" tributes (8 clips, 16:04 total - with two identical introductions narrated by either Peter Berg or Gina Rodriguez) that highlight various professionals and their careers, including a firefighter, iron worker, logger, longshoreman, crane operator, and more. They're certainly inspirational enough and welcome in the context of these bonus features, although a quick trip over to WorkLikeAnAmerican.org will basically get you the same information.
Deepwater Horizon is an extremely competent disaster movie filled with capable performances, terrific visual effects, a convincing atmosphere, and it doesn't overstay its welcome either. But it's also socially irresponsible to a major degree, largely ignoring the real-life ecological nightmare and obvious culprit from the actual event in favor of pure, unapologetic human drama (by choice, not ignorance). Depending on your ability to stomach this glaring problem, you may or may not be able to get behind its message...but for several reasons, Deepwater Horizon probably won't be a movie I return to very often, if at all. Either way, Lionsgate's Blu-ray is objectively good to excellent in every department, serving up a near-flawless technical presentation and a handful of surface-level but appreciated bonus features. Recommended to established fans; everyone else should Rent It first.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.