This is the first film I've watched in nearly four months. How has lockdown been for you? I've not felt able to commit the attention span to watch a whole movie up until now. This might be an odd choice - to watch a film that centres on loss whilst in a prolonged period when we have lost so much and too many, might seem odd. As far as cinema is able to offer an escape, a suspension of reality, I choose to watch a 'based on true events' film. I wonder why?
This film is not a documentary, neither is it high art - except perhaps in the special effects department. The acting is solid and the way in which the movie is filmed gives a palpable sense of the claustrophobic, frenetic, noisy and physical nature of work on a rig. You can almost smell the grease and sweat. As it is indeed based on true events, you know where it is heading. The only question is, how will it get there?
Whilst the film makes no direct judgment, the way in which it sets out the story and the interaction of the characters makes the apportionment of heroism and blame easy. You never have to think too hard. Early on in the film characters' credentials are established, Mark Wahlberg's Mike Williams is the affable family man, level-headed, sensible, competent. Kurt Russel's Mr Jimmy is the boss every worker longs for - a team player, dedicated to employee well-being, friendly and approachable but a man you would not wish to cross. John Malkovich's character is the embodiment of corporate greed - profit is all that matters, who needs safety?
Sadly that is what the film is about - heroism contrasted with corporate greed. Cutting corners to save time on a project that was already over schedule, resulted not in the hoped for profits, but in the loss of too many lives, the livelihoods of too many Gulf fishermen and the biggest loss of reputational kudos on the part of BP. A decade on, American lawyers are still making claims on behalf of victims of America's worst ever environmental disaster, making 'Spillionaires' out of fishermen and leisure industry workers whose livelihoods disappeared in a massive gloopy lake of crude oil. Families still mourn those who died.
As the instinct of the rig management want yet more safety tests on this deepest of drilling experiments, the profit driven BP management want to see oil to begin to flow - they want to see a return on their substantial investment. Two divergent courses. As Mr Jimmy is with most of the crew in the rig mess hall receiving an award from BP for safety, a series of events begins, that will cascade and gather pace leading to the eventual blowout and spectacular fire is visible from an orbiting satellite. The irony of the situation is wonderfully portrayed on screen.
In what is almost exclusively a man's world, two female actors feature. One, the wife of Williams, in the 'traditional' role of stay at home mom, the other is Gina Rodriguez's Andrea Fleytas who as Bridge Officer was responsible for monitoring systems on the rig and ensuring that it maintained station. Fleytas is depicted as an adrenalin loving mechanic who likes maintaining her own Mustang and motorcycle. Pretty, vivacious and competent, she is shown to be able to hold her own as the only woman on the rig during the series of three week rotations she has been on for the last 18 months. She survived the disaster and hasn't worked in the oil industry since.
On the Bridge, in the chaos of an exploding rig there is confusion as to whether or not the well head should be closed. A weak Engineer needs orders and protocols whereas Fleytas feels the decision has already been made and that the safety override button should be pressed. The debate and ensuing delay proves to be a critical factor, although subsequently it is shown that the safety equipment is unable to withstand the immense pressure from the well. This short scene together with the mass evacuation of the rig captured the chaos, shouting and panic that characterised much of what was going on. In contrast others systematically attempted to bring emergency generators online to stabilise the rig and engaged a search for missing crew mates - both of which placed them in significant increased danger.
For a film based on true events, Deepwater Horizon does offer an escape as it portrays a world that is so beyond the experience of most people. It takes us to an unfamiliar world where we encounter familiar human traits such as greed, heroism, sacrifice and love. The closing segment of the film creatively portrays the dissociation caused by trauma through use of slow-motion and an altered soundtrack as Williams reunites with his wife and daughter. The drama is powerful without being over the top. I would recommend seeing this and award it a healthy 7/10.