Fire and chaos on the rig

DEEPWATER HORIZON, Mark Wahlberg, 2016. ph: David Lee/©Summit Entertainment

Deepwater Horizon tells the incredible tale of the people who tried in vain to cap the well during the 2010 disaster

Facing enormous pressure from the British Petroleum representatives, Rig Manager Jimmy Harell (Kurt Russell) didn’t really have a choice but to give the go to start extracting oil from the well. They were nearly 50 days behind schedule. Two tests had been performed on the 1,500 metre pipe and they had passed, although barely. The team needed to move on to the next well. Little did he know, everything would soon erupt into chaos.

Deepwater Horizon, directed by Peter Berg and written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, is based on the true events of April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig erupted into flames, 64 kilometres offshore. Eleven crewmembers died during the disaster, and the fallout included 4.9 million barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, causing the largest oil spill in American waters, according to CBC News.

In the wake of the ecological calamity caused by the oil spill, the loss of life was overlooked—however, the human element of the disaster is the focus of Deepwater Horizon.

The film centers on Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), an electrician aboard the Deepwater Horizon, as he tries desperately to flee the rig, helping as many fellow crewmen as he can get to the lifeboats.

Cinematically, the film shows how the rig, which had been dubbed “the well from hell” by its crew, became a literal pit of hell. Rolling smoke, powerful explosions and raging fire took over the rig, assailing the crew, one explosion after another.

Crew on the Deepwater Horizon had to dodge fireballs and explosions on their way to the lifeboats in order to survive.
Crew on the Deepwater Horizon had to dodge fireballs and explosions on their way to the lifeboats in order to survive.

There are several powerful scenes in the film. The viewer already knows that the disaster cannot be prevented, and yet, the build-up to the calamity adds tension and drama, as well as a sense of foreboding for a disaster we know is coming.

While still at home, Williams listens to a presentation his daughter is going to give at school about her father’s profession. She illustrates his job by shaking a soda can, turning it upside down and driving a metal straw through it. Using honey as the mud substance used to plug wells before extraction, she plugs the metal straw, which acts as a pipe. After she finishes speaking, the soda comes gushing out. While the family scrambles away from the rush of sticky liquid, the camera lingers on the can, and the sounds of fizzing soda are gradually replaced by groaning rock.

One of the main strengths of the film is in how it portrays the characters after they’ve been brought back to shore. After being rescued, the surviving crew are checked into a hotel to wait for their families. As Williams walks into the hotel, shell-shocked from the events he just survived, the worried family members of his crew surround him, asking for information on their sons and relatives. Once in his hotel room, Williams collapses on the floor, overcome by heaving sobs.

The film shows the real aftermath of the incident, from the human perspective. The crew that survived might eventually heal from their physical injuries: the burns, the bruises and the lacerations. But cuts and scrapes aside, the crew that walked off that rig were emotionally wounded. After surviving a hellish ordeal by fire, fed by the greed of the corporations that rented out their labour, they must eventually, somehow, return to a normal life.

The film is a reminder of the hell the crew lived through on that fateful night, and of the political decisions that led to it happening. Although it could have put more emphasis on the crew that perished during the fire, overall, it did a good job of drawing attention to the human collateral damage of the disaster.

Deepwater Horizon will open in theaters across Quebec on Sept. 30.

3 and a half stars.

Previous Article

Motherhood saves the best for last

Next Article

The revolution you didn’t hear about gets its screen time

Related Posts

Roadsworth: Crossing the Line

Sometime after 9/11, visually arresting street art mysteriously began appearing in Montreal's Plateau borough. An anonymous stencil artist turned crosswalk lines into a set of burning birthday candles, sewer grates into sink drains with the stopper hanging off, and broken white lines on a thoroughfare into the blips of an EKG machine.