This is a movie that reinforces the idea that Hollywood is deliberately skewed in the way it narrates environmental disasters for which the United States is directly responsible. This movie is about the explosion aboard Deepwater Horizon, an oil drilling ship, in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Eleven people on the rig and the ship were killed. The film is a bio-pic about the events on that fateful day; especially about the kind of pressure that the drilling team were under before the accident. They had to carry on working, despite being fully aware that the equipment needed urgent maintenance and safety checks before operation.
But, extraordinarily, the action on Deepwater Horizon concludes after the rescue operations are over. The film does not even discuss the fact that the wellhead blowout was then responsible for the largest oil spill in the history of the petroleum history and it took five months to seal the well, during which time the Gulf of Mexico faced one of the greatest environmental disasters of modern times. Even the movie’s epilogue only discusses the appropriation of responsibility for the accident. Did the private contracting company who operated the drilling ship ignore telltale signs of a leak, or was it the BP (British Petroleum) liaison team who were several weeks behind schedule and wanted drilling to continue, who put pressure on the technicians on board the ship to bypass safety procedure?
The use of the American entertainment industry to whitewash, or mitigate, US responsibility for disasters across the world is not unusual. The point is that Deepwater Horizon ends up an inferior film for the decision of not widening the scope of analysis of the accident and for not telling the story of what the whole world saw on television in 2010, an apocalypse caused by the consequences of over dependence on fossil fuels.
So we have some of the biggest names in Hollywood acting out an ensemble movie about what happened on the day of the explosion. We start with Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), a drilling operator, waking up at his home on the morning he is to go on the rig. He makes love to his wife (Kate Hudson), talks to his little daughter and leaves after breakfast. At the rig he is joined by his boss, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), a man he respects no end and for whom he would give his life. There they both get into arguments with the badass BP team leader (John Malkovich) who talks about how his company has to pay the bills and have now lost almost 50 days while maintenance work is being undertaken by men who have no idea of how money operates a company, and don’t care either way.
The constantly moving camera, shifting from character to character in the cramped spaces of the drilling ship, creates an ambience of claustrophobia, which works well when the actual disaster takes place. Trapped in an inferno of gas, oil and fire, acts of bravery save a number of lives, and these scenes are quite moving. But at no stage does Deepwater Horizon rise above the level of a fairly average disaster film.
This is a film which could have said much more than it does about industrial accidents, could have easily widened its ambit to talk about how corporate greed inflicts huge pressure on our fragile eco-systems, but ends up deliberately choosing not to. Which means that a Hollywood production company can become just one more corporation that selectively avoids dealing with real issues. This is regrettable.