This here’s the well from hell.
When the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010, it became the largest ecological disaster in U.S. history. Eleven men died, another 17 were injured, and after the rig burned and sank, millions of gallons of oil were spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The damage to marine life and ecosystems is still being felt today. Directed by Peter Berg, Deepwater Horizon is the pulse-pounding retelling of the catastrophe. While the special effects are astounding, the human stories are what draw us in.
Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, and Stella Allen
Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean, was being leased by BP to find and drill oil wells in the Gulf. That April the rig was positioned 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana above a well called the Macondo Prospect. When the film opens, we see Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) the chief electronics technician, having breakfast with his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson), and daughter Sydney (Stella Allen), before heading off to spend 21 days on the platform. Sydney is obsessed with dinosaurs and her father’s job, helping to bring up the oil created by those prehistoric beasts. There’s a not so subtle preview of the tragedy. A soda can and straw that Sydney has put together to simulate drilling explodes.
Dylan O’Brien and Mark Wahlberg
Most of the actors play the real life characters who worked on the rig. The notable exception is John Malkovich’s character, Donald Vidrine, a BP official who becomes the story’s bad guy. The drilling is behind schedule and Vidrine pushes the Transocean crew captain, Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell), and other workers to speed things up, taking risks that will ultimately doom the operation.
Berg foreshadows the rig’s problems with shots showing what’s happening underwater. (To truly understand what went wrong, read the New York Times story that inspired the film.) Absorbing all the technical details isn’t essential; it soon becomes clear that the pipes won’t be able to hold all that pressure building up below. Soon mud starts to gush from the well, spraying nearby workers and covering the windows of the drill shack so those inside can’t see what’s happening. As dire as the situation appears, the crew had been trained for dealing with blowouts and there was still time to seal the well and prevent an explosion. Human error came into play, however. Technician Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), asks her supervisor about hitting the button that would seal the well. He orders her not to do so, saying they don’t have the authority to make that decision. By the time Mr. Jimmy arrives on the bridge, it’s too late.
Although there were many heroes who risked their lives saving others, the film focuses on Wahberg’s Williams. After finding Mr. Jimmy, who was in his room taking a shower when the explosion happened, Williams works to free another worker with a serious leg injury trapped under debris. Williams then convinces Fleytas to jump into the flaming ocean. They, along with many others, are pulled onto the nearby ship, the Bankston. Mr. Jimmy calls the roll and 11 men are not there to answer. Those who survived kneel and recite the Lord’s Prayer.
Kurt Russell and Ethan Suplee
Deepwater Horizon has much in common with another film about a true life disaster – Titanic. Like that luxury ocean liner, the floating drilling platform was a technological marvel. Both were behind schedule and tried to make up for lost time by speeding things up and taking risks. In the two situations, human error played a factor. Safety measures that might have prevented a disaster were not used. Improper training for a worst case scenario was lacking. There were not enough lifeboats in either situation and the ones that were there were not used properly.
What the Deepwater Horizon doesn’t show – and what would have made for dramatic footage – is the impact the spill had on marine life in the Gulf, all those exotic birds covered in crude oil. Six years later, scientists are still assessing the damage.
Deepwater Horizon opens nationwide September 30, 2016.
Photo credit: David Lee courtesy of Lionsgate