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In 2016, we’ve seen a decrease in the demand for superhero movies and an increase in stories about real life heroes; for every X-Men, Captain America, or Deadpool, there’s a Sully, Snowden, or a 13 Hours. Director Peter Berg understands this; Deepwater Horizon is a story of true heroism, and these heroes have vulnerabilities and limitations. It’s a compelling window into a true event, and Berg’s spectacle is a visual spectacle with a subliminal political message.

Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) is a oil driller, dispatched to a new job on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. When the internal components breakdown after BP cancels last minute safety manuals, the rig explodes, leaving Williams and the crew to fend for themselves. Berg’s criticism of BP is evident, but ultimately the idea of self sacrifice becomes more important that political comentary.

Mark Wahlberg is fantastic here, perfectly playing the everyman in this situation. Wahlberg’s well known for his character roles, but here he’s more vulnerable than he’s ever been, giving a heartbreaking ending scene. Kurt Russel makes for a memorable supporting character, playing a grizzled, veteran driller respected by his crew, and a young, energetic performance by Dylan O’Brien adds a much needed energy to the film. Similar to Berg’s work in Lone Survivor, the comradely between actors is evident and gives an emotional right to the epic disaster.

As for the epic disaster scenes, Berg gets away with a surprising amount of carnage and destruction for a PG-13 film, pulling no punches with the true events. The film is obviously dramatized, but doesn’t feel transitioned to become a blockbuster. This a film about real people, with real stakes, and Berg creates a powerful and terrifying sequence.

Deepwater Horizon is a throughly exhilarating and emotionally stimulating real life adventure, proving to be another successful collaboration between Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg. In the space between Oscar film and summer blockbuster, Deepwater Horizon finds its footing with a film that is both intellectual and emotional. Grade: B+

For more of my thoughts on Deepwater Horizon, check out my appearance on “After Credits”:

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