★ ★ ★ ★
On April 20, 2010, the worst oil spill in U.S. history began when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, located 41 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded in a thunderous fireball. A surge of methane gas rushed up the well from three miles below the surface and ignited, causing the blowout. Eleven of the 126 people on the semi-submersible platform were killed, and dozens more were injured. Millions of barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf for the next 87 days. Making the disaster even more tragic was the fact that it was completely preventable. Greed, coupled with a shrugging disregard for safety, fueled the flames.
The movie Deepwater Horizon begins with Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), a Transocean chief electronics technician, bidding goodbye to his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and daughter Sydney (Stella Allen) before heading out for a three-week stint aboard the company’s Deepwater Horizon rig, which is being leased by petroleum giant BP. Joining him on the helicopter flight out to the drilling site are crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), rig worker Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), and a couple of BP suits who are to present the crew with a workplace safety award. When they arrive, they discover that production is 43 days behind schedule and the rig is rife with safety issues. They also learn that BP executive Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich, in typical reptilian mode) is waiting for them. The bottom-line-obsessed rep wants to get production back on schedule as quickly as possible, and he’s willing to cut corners to do so—despite severe warnings from Jimmy, who believes further testing is needed to ensure that everything below the surface is working properly (which, of course, it isn’t). Pressure is building up along the seabed where the drill is inserted, and it’s about to erupt. Predictably, corporate coercion wins out and all systems are go. And, also predictably, it isn’t long before the entire rig is ablaze, with oil gushing everywhere, steel beams crashing down, rivets and bolts shooting through the air like bullets, and crewmembers being tossed about like so much other debris.
When all hell breaks loose, which happens around the film’s midway point, the picture kicks into a higher gear; director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) ratchets up the intensity and suspense to heart-thumping levels the rest of the way, as our fear that not everyone will survive this catastrophe heightens. A Deepwater Horizon replica was built 85 percent to scale in the parking lot of the derelict Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans, and that attention to detail gives the movie an immediacy and authenticity that pays off big time. In addition, the film’s whizzbang editing, harrowing sound design, and seamless use of CGI work together to create an old-fashioned, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that will likely have theatergoers nervously clutching the armrests on their seats or the arm of the unfortunate person sitting next to them. The cast are also uniformly fine, with Russell’s Mister Jimmy, as he’s affectionately called by the crew, a standout as the voice of reason and the film’s moral center.
If Deepwater Horizon has a fault, it’s that it doesn’t deal with the aftermath of the disaster and its devastating impact on the environment, other than to provide a few onscreen facts as the film wraps up. But as a tale of real-life heroism and corporate avarice, it’s a riveting piece of entertainment that will leave audiences uplifted—and furious.