by Matt McKenna
Having watched the second presidential debate three days after watching Deepwater Horizon, it was difficult to know which ninety minutes of entertainment showcased the greater disaster. Sure, Deepwater Horizon depicts the worst human-caused environmental disaster in United States history, but then the debate was something of a disaster itself. While both Deepwater Horizon and the debate were compelling to watch in a glad-that’s-not-me-on-screen sort of way, isn’t it strange that a movie about an oil rig fire caused by greed and avoidable mistakes somehow inspires more confidence in humanity than a debate between two people vying for the most influential job in the world?
Deepwater Horizon follows Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) as they chopper in to start a three-week rotation working on the eponymous oil rig. When the two men finally reach the work site, they’re greeted by a smug BP suit named Vidrine (John Malkovich) who sends home the safety-check crew before they can perform the tests that would have precluded the upcoming catastrophe. And thus, the film’s protagonists and antagonists are quickly established: Mike and Jimmy are the heroes just trying to do their jobs, and Vidrine and the BP stooges are the villains willing to risk the safety of the workers for money. A bit of Googling reveals that the lead-up to the disaster in real life wasn’t quite as simple as the film portrays it, but the depiction of the disaster itself nonetheless seems pretty accurate: something goes wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, and it explodes.
After the rig explodes, the movie plays out like Titanic sans the love story. Director Peter Berg does a fine job at building suspense, and the action sequences provide audiences with a horrifying window into what it might have been like to be trapped on the floating inferno. Of course, if you’re expecting much from the story, you’ll be disappointed. But then again, if you’re expecting a complex story from a movie starring Mark Wahlberg and a bunch of explosions, it might be the expectations that are at fault rather than the film.
Perhaps the same cynical outlook can be applied to the second presidential debate: if you were looking for substance, you were likely disappointed. But why were you looking for substance in the second debate in the first place? It’s not as if the first debate had much of it, nor did the year of campaigning preceding it. Indeed, this most recent debate was nothing if not an excellent representation of what the 2016 election season has been since the beginning–a reality show in which viewers tune in not to learn about the candidates’ platforms, but instead to hear Trump say something crazy. Perhaps it’s time we stop expecting things that aren’t going to happen like Mark Wahlberg movies having a story or Presidential debates not feeling like a monster truck rally.
That said, both Deepwater Horizon and the second debate were entertaining. If you need to spend a couple hours watching something on a screen, you could certainly do worse than either one. The stunts, effects, and general atmosphere in Deepwater Horizon are impressive, so the viewer certainly gets what they paid for there. Similarly, the second debate was filled with questions designed to make Trump squirm, and Trump’s rambling, confused answers will make most Americans delightfully aghast while Trump supporters will remain triumphantly unconcerned. And of course, to nobody’s surprise, the only boring parts of the debate were the parts when Clinton had the floor since she has the unamusing habit of speaking in complete sentences that make sense, especially when compared to the assortment of words Trump manages to compile.
If you’re looking to be inspired, stick with Deepwater Horizon. At least when it’s over, you’ll be happy that the protagonists in the film manage to overcome the hellscape in which they found themselves trapped. No such luck with the debate; you certainly won’t turn off the TV feeling better about the world. But, hey, the good news is that Deepwater Horizon will likely have a successful run on TNT, TBS, and airplane entertainment systems in the upcoming months, and this election is so, so close to being over.