Films based on recent events are under more scrutiny than totally fictional ones. This is because those whom the story are based on will want their lives to have been depicted correctly. The filmmakers behind Deepwater Horizon — which premiered at Toronto to mixed reviews — know this better than anyone. Tackling the BP oil spill of 2010, known as the biggest environmental disaster of all time and which claimed the lives of eleven men, Deepwater Horizon was a story that had to be told with the right understanding of what really went on that day.
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Peter Berg is a director who loves to tell stories about real people, having done it before in Lone Survivor, Friday Night Lights and The Kingdom. As he says:
"What really gets me going is true stories where I can meet the people that were involved in the story...Being able to reach into that real world gives me inspiration, and that’s what gets me going."
Anchoring the film with a blistering performance is Mark Wahlberg as rig worker Mike Williams. As most of the film is focalized through his experience, this was the portrayal that needed to be get absolutely right. But just how historically accurate is his portrayal? Let's find out.
Having The Right Intentions
Wahlberg has expressed his desire not to exploit the story for commercial gain. Instead he says he was drawn to make the movie for different reasons:
"We wanted to make the entire movie to honor the 11 that lost their lives"
Initially approaching the families of the victims, they were skeptical to allow the story to be told, thinking that once again they would be blamed for the spill. However, Berg and Wahlberg won them over by explaining that they wanted to portray how the victims died whilst trying to prevent the oil spill. By having honorable intentions, Walhberg is seen to approach the role with a focus on telling it correctly.
Preparing The Character
Contrary to some of the lovable dopes he plays on film, Mark Wahlberg is an extremely hard-working person. When he commits to a role, he gives it everything he's got. For example, when talking about his approach to The Fighter — for which he practiced boxing for four years — he said:
"I didn’t want to look like an actor who could box, I wanted to look like a boxer who could win the world title"
The same Olympian approach applied during training for Deepwater Horizon, in order for Wahlberg to gain the same bulk as Williams:
"I trained for 100 days straight for that movie. It was a very strict diet — no wine, no bread, no pasta. If I had any carbs it was just healthy carbs like sweet potato, yams. I got as ripped as I possibly could — the best shape of my life"
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Inviting In The Survivors
Survivors and families of those lost were invited on set in order to liaison with those playing their roles. This included Williams himself, who advised Wahlberg on how to play him correctly. Praising his immense contribution, Wahlberg says:
"For him to be able still be able to relive it with us to make sure it was as accurate as possible takes a special individual"
Collaborating with the man himself, is seems safe to say that Wahlberg has done everything he can to portray his story accurately.
Critics Are Impressed With The Realism
Critics have noted the films verisimilitudinous approach. Peter Debruge of Variety even wrote that the realism can be confusing: "These engineers are doing their jobs, which are far too complicated for us to follow anyway." Eric Kohn agrees, writing for Indiewire:
"Deepwater Horizon does a formidable job of getting across what it must have been like on 'the wall from hell'"
Even David Barstow, the writer of the original New York times article, "Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hour", believes the film has taken the correct and accurate approach:
"I don't think anyone watching this movie will think it airbrushes a natural catastrophe...There's no question this was a huge environmental catastrophe but in the midst of this is also an incredible human disaster."
There Are Skeptics
Not everyone is as impressed by the film as the critics and the newspapermen. One oil worker and survivor, named Patrick Morgan, has taken umbrage with Hollywood's approach. Skeptical of the film industry to really tell the right story, he told the Tampa Bay Times:
"You know how Hollywood is; they're just out to make a buck."
He goes on to say that:
"There's a hundred people who know what happened on that rig. Hollywood sure don't know what happened on that rig."
Despite his skepticism, it seems that based on the fact that Wahlberg talked to the survivor he is portraying, and the story is based upon an award-winning piece of journalism, and that his performance has been lauded for being accurate, that the film has tried to be as realistic as it possibly can. It should make major waves once it is released stateside on September 30th.
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