‘Deepwater Horizon’ Shows An Oil Rig Violently Blow Up, But Little Else

The film comes across as disaster porn, with the audience collectively pushing back against their seats and their heads grimacing to the side to not make direct eye contact with the carnage.

Deepwater Horizon is the latest Hollywood film to dramatize an historical event. Pairing the human focus of Sully with the harsh tension of United 93, the film version of the BP oil spill follows Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) as he wakes up and leave his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter to go to Deepwater Horizon, where he works as an electrician.

The rig is more than a month behind schedule, and the sociopath obsession for corporate profits incentivizes incompetent BP bigwigs (John Malkovich is great as the truly responsible BP man)  to rush things along against the rig captain’s (Kurt Russell) instincts for safety. The rest of the staff (Gina Rodriguez, Ethan Suplee) similarly stand up to BP’s white-collar money men, but to no avail. Naturally, shit hits the fan—which is an appropriate expression for the violent muddy oil geysers that shoot up from the drill when everything goes awry.

The exploding of the oil rig is filmed perhaps too realistically, and it cuts and races like a war scene. It is man versus nature; human hubris versus the awesome power of the Earth. The film comes across as disaster porn, with the audience collectively pushing back against their seats and their heads grimacing to the side to not make direct eye contact with the carnage. Amidst the flames and a collapsing infrastructure, the rig workers somehow keep calm enough to evacuate onto a nearby mud tanker. Not all make it.

The film is a touching tribute to those who died, but perhaps the production of an epically intense movie (that somehow, impressively, earns only a PG-13 rating) to pummel the breath control of audiences with a realistic re-creation of the hell the rig workers survived is not the best way to memorialize them.

Deepwater Horizon will mess you up for the rest of the day — afterwards, I played a ritual game of air hockey with my date and we competed like zombies because our hearts stopped beating regularly at some point while watching the rig workers’ bodies be broken by our robber baron dependence on dirty, obsolete fossil fuels. It makes you furious for a little bit.

Which is why the film is so weak. It just shows you what happened: an oil rig blew up. It doesn’t delve too deeply into BP or the company’s moral failings in obsessing over the bottom line even after their colossal screwup results in the biggest oil disaster in history. The film neither concerns itself with the 87-days of escaping oil nor the mighty effort to finally cap the leak.

It would have been nice to see BP get beat up by the federal government, the massive oil cleanup effort, or American consumers boycotting BP for harming the Southern Gulf coastline. Instead, we see Mark Wahlberg be brave.

Contemptor grade: 6/10

Cole Figus has a BFA degree in acting, and has experience in film and theatre both in the performing and technical arts.
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