DEEPWATER HORIZON directed by Peter Berg

Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams in Deepwater Horizon Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams in Deepwater Horizon David Lee
06 Oct
2016
Terrifying and almost-accurate, Deepwater Horizon returns to the moments before the worst oil disaster in history

Deepwater Horizon starts deep, a mile deep, with a computer-generated dive to the Macondo oil well just before it blew out in April 2010. Overlaying the scene are the real testimonies given by Mike Williams, the rig’s Chief Electronics Technician. The combination sets the film’s tone: one part dramatic reconstruction and one part expensive Hollywood disaster movie.

In general, the oil industry gets little screen time in film, the offshore oil industry even less so. Here, however, long before any explosions, director Peter Berg does well to open up that world. It shows Port Fourchon, Louisiana’s southernmost oil hub, among its glittering bayous and wetlands. Within 40 miles of 600 offshore rigs, the port processes 18 per cent of US oil supply. It shows the helicopter companies that to-and-fro workers from land to sea. Most of all, it shows the complexity of the rig itself, with offices, board rooms, cafes and sleeping cabins sat atop four floating legs: ‘I still can't believe that’s a boat,’ says one employee as the enormous structure comes into view. Neither can we.

At first, the film’s script works hard not to glamourise nor demonise the 130-strong community who work the rig. However, the plot becomes warped in the mistakes leading up to the accident. Mainly, it sets up a conflict between the corporate suits at BP and the honest, blue-collared drillers of Transocean. The rig is not a pump, you see, but a drill rented to BP by Transocean during a temporary exploration phase. Once aboard, we learn that it is 43 days behind schedule to drill and cap a well 5,000ft below sea level and that the BP suits are pushing hard.

The plot is fair in some ways and unfair in others. It creates an easy villain out of company man Donald Vidrine (played by an eerie but enchanting John Malkovich) who cancels a vital ‘cement bond log’ test to save time and money. He then explains away worrying pressure levels with ‘the bladder effect’ – a shaky theory thought to have actually been suggested by a Transocean employee that night. Meanwhile, Williams (a restrained performance by Mark Wahlberg) stresses the need for more caution. The conflict moves the story along, but the overall effect is reductive. It ignores the culpability of numerous companies involved, as well as a faulty chain of command from BP’s headquarters in Houston. This complexity is better addressed in a fleeting scene with Andrea Fleytas (played by Gina Rodriguez) who tries to radio a mayday call during the chaos. A supervisor says ‘you don’t have the authority’ and prevents her.

don3John Malkovich plays Donald Vidrine (Image: David Lee)

When the blow-out happens, however, it is nothing short of terrifying. This is due to Berg’s efforts to avoid the ‘CGI-look’ – he built an 85 per cent scale model of the rig – as well as the raw geological nature of the event. A black column of oil shoots up the rig’s tower and fans out among the cranes like a Christmas tree. The lights glow whiter with the extra methane in the air, as the cast’s eyes grow wider with the reality of the danger. Fire ensues, it covers the rig, the workers and the water. Except for some superfluous shots of some stubborn American flags – surely they would have been among the first things to burn? – the film redeems itself through special effects.

Viewers seeking the story of the three-month oil spill that followed will be disappointed. Deepwater Horizon is not about the long-term disaster that has become synonymous with ‘the BP oil spill’, but about the few crucial hours that caused it. Despite a slippery plot, it brings the controversial industry of offshore oil firmly to the fore.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Long live the King
    It is barely half a century since the Born Free story caused the world to re-evaluate humanity’s relationship with lions. A few brief decades later,...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital has a green future, ...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Books

In 2014, Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters embarked upon an…

Books

As the distinguished German historian, Jan Ruger, describes, never under-estimate…

Books

Deep in the vast rainforests of Honduras, in a region…

Books

As Ghobash points out, his eldest son is only two…

Books

There are a few strange ways to describe a group…

Books

Having everyone agree about the location of zero degrees longitude…

Books

This well-organised and beautifully produced book highlights the careers of…

Films

One of the most gripping mysteries of the 20th century…

Books

At the turn of the 17th century, the idea of…

Books

Mountain regions host a disproportionate share of the world’s conflicts:…

Books

Kit Mayers offers a lively account of Anthony Jenkinson, the…

Books

From food packets to fuel company manifestos, ‘sustainability’ is everywhere.…

Books

Mark Evans is a geography teacher, curious and adventurous, with…

Books

We humans have named ourselves Homo sapiens – ‘the wise…

Books

John Harding is modest about his mountaineering achievements: ‘I might…

Films

Showing at the Banff Mountain Film Festival’s UK tour, The…

Books

Water is ‘the principle of all things’, the element from…

Films

Based on true events, a journey through time and space…

Books

Some adventure stories are all bravado and bluster, a tirade…

Books

A great deal has been written about the dramatic rise…