It’s difficult to know how to respond to Deepwater Horizon. As a disaster movie, it follows all the tenets of the genre and gives us the excitement and heroism we expect. But as a real-life story that involves people who actually died, it’s difficult to separate Hollywood moviemaking from docudrama. Filmmaker Paul Greengrass has pulled this off amazingly well in such films as Bloody Sunday and United 93, in part by using little-known actors. On the other hand Clint Eastwood just made this work in Sully by casting Hollywood’s best-loved star, Tom Hanks, as a celebrated real-life hero.

We’ve seen Mark Wahlberg play this kind of part before and he does it well. He and director Peter Berg collaborated successfully on Lone Survivor, another true-life saga. Bringing in familiar faces may have helped finance Deepwater Horizon and might even make it a box-office hit, but it put me off-balance. Am I cheering for a movie hero or a real person? Berg uses some non-actors in this picture but the focus is on his leading players and while they turn in good performances, it’s hard to forget that we’re watching famous stars. Does wanting to “boo” John Malkovich portraying the “bad guy” from British Petroleum trivialize the catastrophe being dramatized here?

Deepwater Horizon doesn’t pretend to tell the whole story of how a poorly-maintained oil rig caused one of the greatest disasters in the history of our planet, but it makes its points succinctly and effectively using TV news footage to wrap up the story. Even so, the blurry line between fiction and drama left me unsettled.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024