Deepwater Horizon is another movie based on a true story. Since the last movie I reviewed, Sully, was also based on a true story, I couldn’t help but make some comparisons along the way.
Deepwater Horizon is about what caused the horrific BP (British Petroleum) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and if you were running out of reasons to hate Big Oil, this movie will give you plenty. Greed, the need for speed weighed far more heavily than the need for care of the ocean or the men and women on the rig, and general corporate shenanigans from flunkies looking to make a nice bonus set up a horrific chain of events.
We follow key players on the mobile Deepwater Horizon rig – head electrician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), rig boss Jimmy Hammel (Kurt Russell) aka Mr. Jimmy, pilot Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), the slimy BP executive Don Vidrine (John Malkovich), roughneck Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien), and more besides, all of whom are going about what should be a normal day but, of course, isn’t.
The acting is uniformly good – I stopped thinking of any of the actors I knew as themselves and believed their characters pretty much right away. Unlike Sully, Deepwater Horizon takes you through what happened in what feels like real time. We start at Mike’s house, where his daughter is practicing for her “what my dad does” presentation at school. This is a clear foreshadowing of what’s to come, but it’s helpful because we learn what the Deepwater Horizon is and does in an engaging way. Anything we’re missing we get from Mr. Jimmy who’s stuck escorting two random BP execs to the rig. You won’t know everything about oil rigging, but you’ll know enough to be totally on the side of the riggers, versus the BP execs.
Once Mr. Jimmy, Mike, and Andrea get onto the rig for their three-week stint, things start to get tense. The BP execs on the rig have sent the safety and inspection crews away. Mr. Jimmy isn’t happy about this, and the bottom line is “it looks good” and BP wants to save money – $125,000 – and try to make up time – they’re already behind by 43 days and it’s going to be longer. As Mr. Jimmy points out, BP picked the spot to drill, not the Deepwater Horizon crew.
Mr. Jimmy demands a safety test, which is both abnormal but also inconclusive. BP exec Vidrine then provides some bizarre explanation that means they test another pipe. At this point, things look sort of okay, so everyone kind of relaxes. And you, the audience, know for a fact that they shouldn’t. As in a horror movie, you want to yell, “Don’t take a shower!” or “Don’t go in there!” at the characters.
Like every good disaster movie before it, Deepwater Horizon introduces you to a lot of people you care about, ratchets up your tension until the explosion, and then it’s pretty much a standard disaster survival experience – if you count a gigantic rig made of steel and concrete exploding while oil burns on the rig and the ocean to be standard. And since this is based on a true story, it makes what happens worse, because they aren’t “characters”, they’re real people who are facing a very real, very terrifying disaster with little hope of survival, particularly because they’re 30 minutes out, minimum, from all rescue ships and helicopters.
Mike and Andrea are the last people off the rig for a variety of reasons and their escape is both thrilling and very human. Lives were lost in this horrific explosion, Mike and others are total heroes, and the most shocking thing, when the end of the movie arrives, is that anyone made it off the Deepwater Horizon alive.
I do have a couple of complaints. The movie begins with us hearing Mike’s testimony at a senate hearing. This tells us that he survives. Which, based on what we see and how awful the explosion and resulting destruction were, I was only sure would happen because of this little testimony clip we hear. Clearly the movie’s creators think that everyone would know that Mike was alive to testify, but that’s an assumption that I can guarantee is false. The movie would have been a lot stronger without this.
At the end, we’re shown the names and pictures of those men who died. BUT, we’re not shown the actors – we’re shown the real people. Considering that none of the real people look like Hollywood actors, I had no idea who anyone but one guy was. A better technique that’s been done in other movies would have been to show a picture of the actor in character and then fade into what the real person looked like.
Some of the scenes during the explosions and subsequent rescues are very jumbled, which makes you feel that you’re there but are also hard to see and follow, particularly when we’re dealing with characters who aren’t Mike, Mr. Jimmy, Andrea, or Holloway. Who’s who starts to jumble as everyone’s covered with oil and soot and blood.
Sully is far more of a feel good movie, even though it’s not nearly as well constructed as Deepwater Horizon. But Deepwater Horizon is a far more important movie – people tend to forget, and what BP caused through its desire to speed up and save money was the worst oil spill in US history and a horrific loss of human (and marine) life. You’ll leave this movie exhilarated and angry – stay angry, and don’t let Big Oil do this to our country, or our people, again.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
On April 20th, 2010, one of the world’s largest man-made disasters occurred on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. Directed by Peter Berg (Lone Survivor), this story honors the brave men and women whose heroism would save many on board, and change everyone’s lives forever.
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich
Directed by: Peter Berg
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Matthew Sand, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul