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By Kate Smith
2nd October 2016

Most of us know this story about an oil rig exploding off the coast of the U.S. in 2010. We would have heard about it on the news, and how it was one of the worst (if not the worst) oil spills in history. We heard about how BP was accused of negligence and that people were killed. 'Deepwater Horizon' aims to put a human face on the tragedy and tell a more meaningful story.

The writing is very good - realistic, and due to the ridiculous choices some of the characters make, troublingly believable. Considering this is based fairly closely on actual events, this makes sense. What doesn’t make sense, however, is the point of the film. The story progresses along nicely, it’s very well made, but like last month's 'Sully', feels ultimately pointless as a narrative. That is, until the very end, when 'Deepwater Horizon's' purpose is made clear.

The film introduces our everyday hero, family man Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson). Mike is the chief electrical engineer on Deepwater Horizon, a semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling rig. The rig is commanded by Mister Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and tasked by BP to drill an exploratory well, then cap it, ready for a permanent platform to start pumping. The physics of the process are explained by the film in enough detail to understand the coming disaster and why BP’s reps were the cause. Playing villain #1 is John Malkovich as BP man Vidrine, who’s accent is not only unintelligible at times, but very distracting. I know they were going for realism, but I’m sure we would forgive a little leeway so we could understand what characters were saying. When Jimmy, Mike, rig operator Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez, 'Jane the Virgin') and other workers arrive at the rig, an inspection team hired by BP is just leaving. But they haven’t done one of the tests which would normally be completed before Deepwater Horizon caps a well for handover. This sets off alarm bells for Jimmy, who immediately has at it with the BP reps on board. It soon becomes clear that BP is taking a gamble on the integrity of the well, desperate to close it off soon as they are already 45 days behind schedule. There’s foreshadowing aplenty, as the audience gets a fish's-eye view of what’s happening on the sea floor. When all hell eventually breaks loose, bureaucracy and a series of unfortunate coincidences make it all the worse.


In some ways, this film is a study of both the best and basest of human nature – the most base being Vidrine’s greed driving him to take shortcuts that eventually lead to loss of life; the best in Mike’s willingness to go back into danger to help keep the rig afloat, buying the lifeboats more time.

The film is technically brilliant. Where CGI is used for wide shots of the rig, it’s very good. Production value is top-notch. Performances from all major players are as good as they will ever be, particularly from Kurt Russell as Mister Jimmy, who battles on to do his job, despite losing use of an eye and having shower glass explode over him. Gina Rodriguez deserves every award coming her way, as quick-thinking yet terrified Andrea, who’s the only member of the bridge staff to think to go outside and look to see if what their instruments are showing is true.

I can’t fault this film, but I can’t love it either. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, and I can’t quite put my finger on why it’s not better than it is. Perhaps it’s because until the very end, it’s just a story, and not a very nice or interesting one. There’s no real emotional attachment to any of the people involved; you hate Vidrine, but not passionately, and you respect the riggers... but you’re not invested, and that’s what should have happened.

I can’t fault this film, but I can’t love it either. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, and I can’t quite put my finger on why it’s not better than it is.

At the very end, after the film is finished, we’re shown images of the real people involved. The real Mike and Felicia are average, slightly portly Americans. Somehow, showing us the real people both ruins the film as well as suddenly makes it worthwhile. It destroys the illusion, which is both good and bad. We’re sucker-punched with the reality of it, which elicits that required emotional response, but also reminds us that this is Hollywood, and nothing is completely true. When you see the difference between the real people and the actors playing them, you'll understand what I mean.

While the film aims to put a human face on the disaster, emphasising the loss of life and ongoing trauma to the survivors, I feel a film like this with its big names and budget could have spent a bit more time on the deeper underlying cause of the spill – our dependence on fossil fuels and the damage continuing to use them causes. Humanity is at a stage now where we really should be shouting this from the rooftops; ‘Deepwater Horizon’ could have been a tall platform to do this, but the opportunity is let pass by.

But you read these reviews to find out if you should spend your precious time and dosh seeing it. If the subject interests you, yes, definitely see it. If you’re after a Hollywood disaster movie, this will tick a couple boxes, as it certainly borrows heavily from that genre as a film. While I did spend a good deal of time during ‘Deepwater Horizon’ waiting for the point, it’s still a very good film and you may find it moves you.

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