Film Review: Deepwater Horizon

By RENEE SUMMERS, A&E Editor

Disaster films are a genre of their own. When they are based on actual events, they become the narration of a tragedy. So it is with Deepwater Horizon, released in 2016. The film relates the events leading up to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico. The film, directed by Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Battleship), is not a documentary on the ensuing environmental disaster. It instead tells the events of April 20, 2010, who the people involved were, and what they did to survive.  

The film stars Mark Wahlberg as Mike Williams and Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight) as Jimmy Harrell. Williams was the chief electronics technician and Harrell was the rig’s installation supervisor. Playing the role of the rig’s navigation officer, Andrea Fleytas is actress Gina Rodriguez. Also aboard the old rig are BP managers Don Vidrine, played by actor John Malkovich and Bob Kaluza, played by Bran Leland.  

Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand tell the story effectively, keeping in mind that the average film goer has no idea exactly what goes on aboard an oil rig out in the ocean. There is a lot of technical engineering lingo being used but the filmmakers do add explanations by way of captions which explain what things are and their purpose. Especially entertaining is character Williams’s daughter rehearsing her school presentation of what her father does at work on an oil rig.  

Early in the film it is apparent there are two teams who seem to be at odds with one another. One team is the crew that lives for weeks at a time aboard the oil rig, doing their job. The other is the visiting representatives from BP who are portrayed as profit-focused. Actor Malkovich plays this bigwig role exceptionally well and the viewer ends up hating him by the end of the film. The two teams clash as it becomes known that vital safety tests on the rig were scrapped as a cost-cutting measure by BP. Harrell is concerned for the safety of his workers; Vidrine is concerned for the bottom line of the company which employs him. All of this conflict leads to the eventual blow out on the oil rig and subsequent explosions and fire, placing everyone on board in jeopardy.  The result was the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.  

The film is nominated for two academy awards, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects.  Both awards should be in the bag, as the visuals are both stunning and believable. The filmmakers’ use of silence as opposed to dialogue, over which melancholy music fills in during the explosion and rescue scenes actually speaks volumes. The technical intricacies of the film do become mundane but the drama which unfolds around the oil rig workers’ lives is absorbing.

The cast is rounded out by actors James DuMont, Joe Chrest, Ethan Suplee and actress Kate Hudson as Felicia Williams. If disasters flicks are your thing, stream this gritty drama and prepare to be moved by the true tale.