“I’d Think You Money-Hungry Sons of Bitches Would at Least Be Good at Math…” – Mike Williams
The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, commonly referred to as the BP Oil Spill, is, to this day, regarded as one of the widest-reaching environmental disasters in human history. An industrial catastrophe that began on April 20th, 2010, off the coast of the United States in the Gulf of Mexico, the event caused the deaths of eleven oilfield workers and was estimated to have spilt over two hundred and ten million gallons of oil into the ocean, forcing industry giant BP to pay more than $60 billion in criminal and civil penalties, natural resource damages, economic claims and cleanup costs for their reckless corporate culture of cost-cutting and excessive risk-taking. The 2016 cinematic interpretation of this true-to-life tale; Deepwater Horizon, makes effective use of its titular location and subsequent tragedy to deliver a lamentable yet nevertheless gripping thriller, admiring the bravery of those who escaped with their lives whilst never losing sight of the affliction and distress they endured on that faithful day.
Plot Summary: Manned by one hundred and twenty-six workers, the semi-submersible, offshore oil-drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon, operates as usual over the Gulf of Mexico, forty-one miles southeast of the Louisiana Coast. But, before long, Chief electronics technician, Mike Williams, and seasoned rig supervisor, Jimmy Harrell, discover that the critical examination of Deepwater Horizon’s cement foundation was bypassed by BP’s frugal executives, consequently inducing a devastating explosion that kills several oilfield workers and traps Mike and his remaining colleagues on the cadaverous rig amidst the flames…
Upon its announcement, many oilfield workers from the Gulf of Mexico were against the production of Deepwater Horizon, declaring that they believed the film would dishonour the men who sadly perished during the event. However, Mike Williams (one of the survivors) thoroughly supported the film, assisting the crew throughout production alongside another survivor, as they felt it was a suitable method of depicting the terrifying circumstances they and the other oilfield workers endured, with the leading intent of director Peter Berg (Hancock, Lone Survivor, Patriots Day) being to make the disaster feel as real as possible for the audience, encapsulating the sensation of workers’ shared dread in 2010.
In keeping with this sense of realism, the dialogue throughout Deepwater Horizon remains authentic to the vocabulary of oilfield workers, repeatedly tossing around the shorthand terminology of the position. Similarly, the screenplay is precise in defining the various components of the oil rig without becoming overwhelmed, making the eventual catastrophe that unfolds appear merited and tangible. Regrettably, however, even with most of the central cast, including Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell and Gina Rodriguez, being introduced before they set foot on the rig through an assortment of brief, home-set sequences, the majority of these preliminary scenes only provide insight into their industrial roles along with some clumsy exposition concerning the Deepwater Horizon, conveying that each of the oilfield workers has loved ones, but not much else.
For the production of Deepwater Horizon, an extensive oil rig set was constructed in Chalmette, Louisiana (where filming predominantly took place). One of the largest-scale sets ever built at the time, the rig-inspired set was assembled using over three million pounds of steel in a two-million-gallon water tank. And while this commitment to building an expansive set is indeed impressive, appearing immensely accurate to the actual Deepwater Horizon, the set design is partially hindered by the cinematography by Enrique Chediak, which remains relatively uninspired throughout the runtime, primarily consisting of hand-held mid-shots and the occasional sweeping wide shot of the rig and surrounding ocean.
The third instance composer Steve Jablonsky has collaborated with Peter Berg following 2012’s Battleship and 2013’s Lone Survivor. Berg and Jablonsky’s staple as a director-composer duo seems to be taking sampled mechanical sounds and using them as the cornerstones of each original score. On Battleship, this sound was the whining, clanging cacophony of a medical MRI machine whereas, on Deepwater Horizon, it’s the incessant ping of an active SONAR alongside a combination of electronic tones and instruments. As such, the score lacks melody and harmony, yet successfully creates suspense through tracks like The Rig, Negative Pressure Test and Cut the Pipe, up to when the rig explodes.
Once the rig does eventually burst into flames, it’s suitably nightmarish as Peter Berg doesn’t attempt to ‘wow’ the audience with impressive visual effects or exhilarating set pieces, but rather never lets the audience forget that this is a man-made disaster, pointing the finger squarely at BP for their monumental mistake and proving that while there may have been some temptation to provide the story with a glossy finish, Berg found a way to present blockbuster-level effects without sacrificing any of the realism or torment of the actual event.
In summary, whilst most disaster flicks are usually guilt-free confections, given that they often centralise on an act of nature and feature destruction so grandiose in appearance that it lessens the impact of the on-screen devastation to the point that the audience can relish in the utter mayhem. Deepwater Horizon takes a drastically different approach to the disaster genre, with its story being based on true events. By embracing this realism, the cataclysm that occurs within the film becomes more immediate and horrifying. And while there are feats of courage here and there, Deepwater Horizon is predominantly presented as a real-world calamity, not a comforting tale of heroism and optimism. Rating: 7/10.