The name is synonymous with one of the worst industrial accidents of all time. In April 2010, the titular drilling rig suffered a catastrophic explosion that spilled millions of tonnes of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, causing untold damage to the eco-system. The environmental impact was unprecedented – but Peter Berg’s film is much more concerned with the human story behind the disaster. One hundred and twenty six crew members worked aboard the Deepwater Horizon and, sadly, not all of them lived to tell the story.
The events are seen largely from the POV of engineer Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg). We first join him at his home, shortly before he leaves for an eventful three-week shift on the drilling platform and we catch his interplay with his wife, Felicia (Kate Hudson) and his young daughter, Sydney (Stella Allen). Barely ten minutes in, we care about him. And then we’re aboard the rig, watching as he goes about his daily routine, exchanging pleasantries with the other crew members and noting the concerns of safety officer, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), who feels that safety checks are being ignored because the drilling is forty three days behind schedule, something that’s encouraged by BP executive, Vidrine (John Malkovich, playing a character almost as oily as the stuff the crew are drilling for). Of course, history tells us that something went badly wrong and the suspense racks steadily up to the moment when it actually does.
From here on, we’re in disaster movie territory, as all hell breaks loose. It’s a horribly immersive experience and there’s barely time to draw breath as the crew run desperately around the rig, trying to stay alive. Strangely, it’s only after the blitzkrieg of special effects is over that the emotions are hit – there’s a key scene here that had me filling up and it will be a stony individual indeed, who doesn’t feel similarly compelled.
Ultimately, Deepwater Horizon is a tale of heroism – both Williams and Harrell went far beyond what might have been expected of people in such circumstances. It also makes for a thrilling cinematic experience. As the credits roll, we see the real people behind the story, who – surprise, surprise – are nothing like as photogenic as the actors who portray them, but it drives home the fact that this is a true story, where once again corporate greed puts profits above human lives.