Deepwater Horizon – a review

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A moment captured from the real Deepwater Horizon disaster

Here is a film in which Peter Berg the director is desperately keen to honour the men and women who served on that fated oil exploration rig in the Gulf of Mexico, twenty-five minutes from the Texan coast, and who were caught in the inferno.

Executive produced by one of its stars, Mark Wahlberg, the director is given a fairly conventional scenario to turn into a gigantic effects movie. In the end, though he does a masterful job of recreating lives in extreme jeopardy, aided by superb editors, the real issues are criminally glossed over.

This is Raging Inferno based on a true disaster. Movie stars are not in it to look superhuman heroic, but to play real people who were injured or died.

To the true story. BP-leased, Transocean-owned deepwater drilling rig that in 2010 exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 souls, causing mayhem, and environmental catastrophe that devastated the region. It’s an uncomplicated story told in visually and verbally complicated moments, and to the director’s credit he sticks to his simple theme, and handles it all with apocalyptic glee. This is spectacle on a grand scale.

Save for the survivors coming home, we see nothing of the aftermath, the environmental disaster and its lingering consequences. That’s tossed away in a one-line sentence at the end of the movie: “Over 400 million barrels of oil spilled into the gulf of Mexico.”

This leaves the intelligent cinemagoer disconnected from the drama. You keep asking, we know men died, and many were saved, but what of the oil  spill, and all it did to harm people’s lives, countless livelihoods reliant on harvesting sea, wetlands and estuaries, death to countless marine creatures, and the flora and fauna of the coastline?

BP failed to cap the broken gushing underwater pipe for over eight-seven days, by which time the earth’s bounty had become the earth’s bringer of death.

Various investigations and demands from President Obama blamed BP as the main culprit, the oil rig staff as secondary guilty party, but the film makes no mention of the infamous Haliburton, owners of the rig, pals to Vice President Chaney who kept his millions in shares while in the Oval office, and the biggest profiteer in the Iraq invasion.

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Kurt Russell is a hard boss in a world of hard men who wear hard hats

The film begins with the expected, it centres on one senior oil rig worker played by Mark Wahlberg, his stay at home wife, Kate Hudson, and cute little daughter, who by sheer coincidence presages the rig disaster with a can of coke on the kitchen table. You just know his wife is going to suffer impotently from afar, having previously expressed nothing but carnal lust in bed, carnal lust preparing breakfast, carnal lust saying goodbye as he goes off to the rig, and carnal lust over Skype to his computer screen in his rig cabin. That’s an awful lot of carnal lust – the woman as sex object.

Maybe my middle-aged has me jaundiced about continuous sexual coupling without exhaustion but there were moments I wanted to shout, go and do some damn work! Fluff a few throw cushions, anything, for gawd’s sake.

There’s nothing light and fluffy about these early scene because Berg imbues them with gravity. In fact, there’s a surfeit of it, from the smallest role doing his job well, to the rig’s master and safety engineer Kurt Russell taking on the visiting BP officials over their supercilious skill at cutting corners. Admired by his men, he likes things done correctly, and warns a casual approach will turn out bad. And so it transpires.

The movie really begins flying when things start to go wrong with the test bore, and walls and pipes begin rattlin’ and roarin’, rivets pop, oil and gas gush in all directions, doors fly off their hinges, and men are thrown backwards into the next room, or down a corridor into oblivion. Mercifully the Speilbergian cliché of signalling impending doom, liquid rippling in a glass, is avoided.

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Wahlberg (right) takes direction from Berg (left)

The Deepwater Horizon rig is an aging pile of steel and gantry riddled with problems. BP executives, eager to get moving after falling 43 days behind schedule and $53 million over budget, show how much a global company is a tyranny.

They instruct nothing needs fixed though they themselves see phones dead, computers blacked out, and toilets don’t flush. (I made up that last one.) BP cuts corners to save a pile of cash, and humans in the way are just so much annoyance.

Among BP’s biggest mistakes: sending home early the team that’s supposed to test the cement used to plug up the bore well. This gets Kurt Russell  so mad he indulges in a verbal sparring battle with Malkovitch.

Watching it I had moments of deja vu. It’s the seaside head of police in Jaws arguing with the mayor that no one should go in the water while a ‘person’ chomping shark is out there and still hungry, with the Mayor saying nonsense, let it eat cake, the town needs the money from summer tourists.

Berg handles the tension and tightens the pace extremely well in three second cuts and jump cut takes. The process to Armageddon is followed in excruciating detail.

Kurt Russell is perfectly cast as the no-bullshit safety veteran Jimmy Harrell who likes to see all the boxes are ticked and no statistic and analysis falsified. Stud muffin Mark Wahlberg plays to his strengths as Mike Williams, the smartest guy in the room who knows when to keep his mouth shut.

We are on the side of the blue collar workers from the moment the film titles are done, the men ever-ready with a quip and a lewd joke. Here the baddies are baddies, and the goodies drink beer.

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BP commissioned a propaganda documentary showing a dozen sea otters rescued and rehabilitated to show how well they had ‘cleaned up’

The film is topped and tailed by excerpts from the actual investigative committee that looked into the origins of the disaster. There lies the the real story, the politics of greed, of companies who prevaricate and lie, and the small people who are the casualties.

BP faced a slew of different legal battles relating to the April 2010 disaster, suffering the setback in its multimillion dollar court battle with six institutional British investors, who claim the oil giant did not come clean about the scale of the disaster. They allege they lost “substantial sums as a result of BP’s misleading statements” over its safety policies, and the difficulty it faced in stemming the oil spill.

As of 2013, criminal and civil settlements and payments to a trust fund had cost the company $42.2 billion. In September 2014, a U.S. Court ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the oil spill because of its gross negligence and reckless conduct. In July 2015, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement in U.S. history.

Well, did you know that? The film gives us less in order to give us entertainment. The question is, how much do you love seeing men getting blown to bits covered in oil?

Berg’s next movie is the Boston marathon bombings. I hope he concentrates on the chase to catch the villains and not on the agony of the victims.

  • Star Rating: Three stars
  • Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovitch.
  • Director: Peter Berg
  • Writer: Mathew Michael Carnahan, Matthew Sand
  • Cinematography: Enrique Chediak
  • Composer: Steve Jablonsky
  • Duration: 107 minutes

 

 

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2 Responses to Deepwater Horizon – a review

  1. Davy says:

    Thanks for that review, but to be honest it is a film I will probably never watch, mainly because I lost my brother on the Piper Alpha and I knew a couple of the other lads lost and it still would be too much to take.

    But from your review it still shows how money comes first in the oil industry before anything else.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    Fair point, Davy, and a sad one.
    I attended the cinema to see a different film but the place switched start time on me. I’m seeing too many movies that are all digital effects and little substance. This wasn’t quite that bad, but as I mention, it missed the real story and the real conflict.

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