TIFF 2016: Deepwater Horizon Review

Gala Presentations 

Look, let’s just get it out of the way – I really loved Deepwater Horizon. I think it’s a terrific bit of thrilling filmmaking, mixing “true story” drama with the flair for a 70s style disaster film. You’ve got explosions and spewing oil and all kinds of action bits as well as genuine drama with characters you care about. It all plays out within a context that as least subtly addresses the hubris at the heart of the business of oil, the challenges of exploitation and the wondrous fact that one of our most influential natural resources is tapped from the liquefied remains of prehistoric creatures and plants.

If that’s not enough to sway you, well, I’m not sure what else to add. I will admit to a growing love for all things Peter Berg – even when his films falter they’re interesting, and here he seems to perfectly balance the cinematic expectations (the “things go boom” aspect) with the character beats (broadly, the “why should I give a shit?” quotient). This is buttressed thanks to sophisticated filmmaking, where the director and his team know how to make you feel part of the situation, empathizing with characters that one cares about, finding yourself in the same situation unsure whether to jump through flames or to keep running up. 

As visceral entertainment it’s a load of fun, but thanks to Mark Wahlberg, the improbable titan of Hollywood who has gone from laughable rapper to king of most media, it equally feels like a “real” movie. Wahlberg’s excellent, providing his character Mike Williams with enough moxie to make it compelling, demonstrating strength without appearing super human. In fact it’s the whole notion of keeping your head while the world is collapsing that gives the film its energy, and combined with Gina Rodriguez and Ethan Suplee (yeah, really) it all does the trick.


Meanwhile, you’ve got a bunch of fires burning while Kurt Russell runs about, making this a fine echo of the underloved Backdraft. In the years since that fine film the effects work has improved, but the absolute fundamental beauty and horror that flames on screen tweaks deep in our reptilian brains makes for some truly engaging stuff. Sure, John Malkovich plays a pretty silly villain, and Kate Hudson works away as the fretting wife, but even these come across as in keeping with the tone of the film.

In the end, we’ve got a story both exhilarating and interesting, well told with stunning visuals and good performances. It may not be as cerebral as some, but there’s brains behind this flick, far more than just run-of-the-mill disaster porn. It maybe hyperbole to call this my Titanic, but in terms of real life disasters with human drama never overshadowing the events (and eschewing Cameron’s penchant for adding a gunfight to a sinking ship) I’ll take Deepwater Horizon over that bloated melodrama any day.


Tuesday Sept. 13, 6:30pm @ Roy Thompson Hall


Wednesday, Sept. 13, 3:00pm @ Visa Screening Room

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