Disaster in the Gulf: “Deepwater Horizon” (2016)

In April of 2010, the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded as a result of negligent behavior by BP and the rig’s owner, Transocean. The explosion killed 11 crew members. In what is now considered the worst oil spill in US history, an estimated 210 million gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico between April 20, 2010, and September 19, 2010. The film “Deepwater Horizon” is based on the events of April 20th that caused the spill.


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image via McClatchy Washinton Bureau


Director: Peter Berg

Writer: Matthew Sand, Matthew Michael Carnahan

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russel, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson

Plot Overview

Mike Williams (Wahlberg) is the Chief Electronics Technician aboard the Deepwater Horizon. Both Williams and Offshore Installation Manager James Harrell arrive on the ship on April 20, 2010, to start their 21-day shift rotation. Once aboard, they are notified that workers assigned to do a concrete safety test have been sent home. The two of them enter into a heated argument with BP manager Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) about the readiness of the ship to begin drilling operations. After a pressure test is conducted, the leadership aboard Deepwater Horizon reluctantly agrees to move forward with the operation which is now 47 days behind schedule.

Unfortunately, the technicians interpreted the results of the pressure test incorrectly. The concrete safety layer gives way causing a massive explosion. As their equipment malfunctions, it becomes clear the Deepwater Horizon is doomed. The crew members must abandon ship before its too late.

The Blame Game

There is an obvious blame slant this film rides pretty hard. The BP managers are portrayed as greedy cheapskates who circumvent the safety precautions that exist aboard the Deepwater Horizon so they can save a buck or two. While this may be true, Transocean had a share in the blame as well. Both companies paid major fines as a result of the oil spill.

In the film, BP does not run a cement safety test for unknown reasons, and it leaves the crew members to speculate that they skipped it because they wanted to cut costs. The camera jumps from one area of the ship to another so fast that all the moving parts are enough to make your head spin. The main point of this is to show that workers in each area had doubts about the safety of the well, but they moved forward with the project anyway.

The BP managers are lead by a shrewd businessman named Donald Vidrine. Mr. Vidrine is a risk taker. He is willing to gamble on the environment for a bigger payout. At one point he erases important data of a whiteboard so he can create a diagram demonstrating why the results of the pressure test are faulty. His argument is extremely convincing, and he claims the rig is ready. His arrogance is mind-boggling. He is just the most pompous sleazebag you’ve ever seen. Malkovich portrays this with amazing effectiveness.

“You’re nervous as cats, afraid to make it work at every turn. That will be my report back to the bosses.” Those are his comforting words to the crew who drag their feet when they see the results of the pressure test. He bullies the crew into proceeding despite all signs pointing to disaster. And from that point on, nothing goes according to plan.

Everyone is so excited to get started. We see how quickly their reservations about the plan recede behind the promise of black gold. They celebrate for a few hard minutes, and then that glee is interrupted by an explosion.


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image via YouTube


What I Liked

The movie excited and entertained me, just as it should. Something about it feels a little wrong, however, given how recently the disaster took place. The touch of realism brought on by the actual footage of testimony being given by crew members, including the real-life Mike Williams, adds a feeling of legitimacy to the film.

As far as disaster films go, “Deepwater Horizon” delivers a thrill ride. Peter Berg shoots the camera through the infrastructure of the well as it is breaking down. The pipes shudder, the pressure escapes through the porous concrete barrier that wasn’t properly tested for cracks, and you can feel the danger emanating from the situation.

Kurt Russel’s performance deserves praise; his unpolished ruggedness and blue-collar demeanor fit perfectly with this role. He gives off a papa bear aura and you can tell the people working under him respect his authority. Russel portrays his character with a spirit of resilience; he spends more than half the film trying to claw his way to safety after sustaining major injuries during the initial explosion. In one particularly cringe-worthy scene, he is blown out of the shower and has pieces of fiberglass and drywall protruding from his skin and one of his eyes.


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Image via The New York Times


What I Didn’t Like

Right after I finished this movie, I thought I really liked it. But when I started to analyze it, I realized the film doesn’t have much substance. The subject matter and special effects give it legs, but this film isn’t supported by stellar dialogue. This film keeps the audience interested by hurling us through the disaster one major explosion at a time.

When Mark Wahlberg says, “We are gonna jump over the fire!” you know you’re in for a treat. While he may draw massive success from his action roles, I think he’s just gotten really good at playing Mark Wahlberg. I don’t see a lot of variation from role to role with him. He is a good looking guy who can convey urgency and strength while under duress… and that’s really all he’s got.

Kate Hudson plays Mike Williams’s wife, Felicia. I love Kate Hudson, but the only thing she adds to this production is star power. Her character doesn’t do much besides look worried and make phone calls. I think this film wasted her potential.


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image via Cinapse


Espresso and Cake (Better Known as Closing Comments)

126 crew members were on board the Deepwater Horizon on April 20th. 11 men died as a result of the explosion. This film helps memorialize them in the eyes of a broader audience, and I think that’s a good thing. Whether or not the story is completely accurate is another matter entirely.

Regardless of its accuracy, this film does what it set out to do, which is give us a rush from yet another “based on a true story” screenplay. The special effects are amazing, and the film is packed with adrenaline-filled moments that will keep you gripped until the end. But don’t expect more than that.


Rating: 2 out of 4 Stars

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Thank you for reading! What did you think about Deepwater Horizon? Let me know in the comments below!

Thank you for visiting MTB Fresh!


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