On 20 April 2010, while finishing preparatory drilling on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, an uncontrollable blow-out caused an explosion killing 11 crewmen. Igniting a fireball visible from 64 km away, the blaze was inextinguishable and two days later the Horizon sank, causing the largest ever spill in US waters.
Director Peter Berg who appears to be specialising in very American tragedies, again employs his favourite actor Mark Wahlberg to act as a nominal hero but really audience view, into this arguably preventable and very visible tragedy.
The film starts with the usual family scenes, Mom, Dad and cute moppet handily explaining what happens to an oil rig under pressure using a coke can. Once out on the rig, the all pervasive driver of peoples actions boils down to one thing, time is money.
We learn interesting facts. The rig is not actually extracting oil, but creating then capping a well to be exploited later. “Horizon” was not actually tethered to the sea bed (apart from the drill) but kept in position using propellers and lots of computers.
Whilst the rig was owned by another company “Transocean”, “BP” were calling the shots. Work was well behind schedule, lots of money and reputations were at stake. BP executives wanted to move onto the next site but ultimately the decision to declare the site safe, remained with rig boss “Mr Jimmy” Kurt Russell, ironically receiving a safety award just prior to the main event.
With the ending well known, creating suspense is difficult and the films success rests on the ability to provide a spectacle, with real characters and human drama.
The director and special effects team have certainly held up their side of the bargain. A real rig in a water tank, heavily augmented with CGI provides the look, heft and tangible structure for the actors to play against. When the explosions and chaos is unleashed after a lengthy build up, the tension and palpable fear is impressively portrayed.
Russell makes for a gnarly seen it all before skipper and Malkovich is suitably oily (see what we did there). Wahlberg is rather bland but probably good enough for this type of film. Kate Hudson makes an impression as his wife at the end of the phone and Rodriguez does a reasonable job in her assigned role.
Wisely the team avoids pointing the finger of blame too firmly and all but completely ignores the ecological aspect of the event. One could argue this was well covered elsewhere and many viewers might not have been aware of the direct human toll at the time. As we know, post disaster “BP” provided a master class in how NOT to handle a crisis from a media and optics point of view.
A disaster movie in the old fashioned style but with state of the art effects, largely sidestepping any moral questions, blame or ecological impact
A spectacular watch albeit a recreation where 11 people died, ultimately costing BP some $50bn. The disaster simultaneously destroying a marine environment and living for those connected to the coastline at the time.