Deepwater Horizon: The Subtle Patriotism

*Warning: Potential Spoilers*

The moment you see Mark Wahlberg’s name attached to a movie, there is a certain idea of what the movie is going to be like – patriotic, action-packed, and overall saying something deep and inspiring about the human spirit and people in general. Almost as soon as you see Wahlberg’s name in the credits, you know what you’re walking into, mostly because you’ll also see the fact that the producer and director of this movie have worked with him before on a little project called Lone Survivor (2013).  Somehow, though, that doesn’t stop you from enjoying this film- you know exactly what it wants to say, exactly who to hate, and exactly how you are supposed to feel, all when you walk in the door. But that doesn’t mean that Deepwater Horizon doesn’t do its damnedest to make you feel it anyway.  

4928In April of 2010, the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico is beyond compare in terms of size and depth when it comes to oil rigs. It is, however, beset by technical issues, and in order to make up for lost time, the BP company renting it (and its crew) order for inspections and system tests to be halted. Operational supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and Chief Electrical Engineer Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) protest vehemently, but are overruled and the drill begins to operate. On April 20th, the workers’ fears are realized as system failures and building pressure cause a massive blowout on the rig to begin one of the worst environmental disasters in history.

image-2016-03-242When the film was first announced and started to receive press attention, there were concerns that perhaps the film may be disrespectful to the men who died during the actual destruction of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Mike Williams, a survivor of the event who worked closely with the filmmakers for authenticity, was all for the creation of the film to demonstrate to the world the circumstances that the crew members faced on April 20th. Looking at it from that angle, the movie takes on a whole new light. Genuine emotions bubble to the surface as Russell argues with the BP supervisors over the safety procedures, as Wahlberg and his crew mates watch as their safety teams leave them for the month, that makes you understand just how hopeless the situation was from the start. And as the movie goes on, it helps you to realize that none of the crew on the Deepwater Horizon were stupid. They didn’t screw up, there was no careless mistake – those men and women knew their jobs and did them well. The accident was just waiting to happen, and if BP hadn’t sent away the safety teams, perhaps the tragedy could have been prevented. If that doesn’t stop you from using your local BP station (like the commercials with the dying animals covered in goo), I don’t know what will.

960x410_9d3402aef3ded6f55472119c542b46a3It does sometimes become difficult to keep track of most characters – Dylan O’Brien (who has been out of acting for the past few months because of an injury) performs admirably amongst his older coworkers, but because about halfway through the movie everyone gets so covered in muck and blood, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of him. Kate Hudson also gives a touching performance as Wahlberg’s wife, but her scenes are few because really the story is not about her. She and her daughter, though, are the only characters to really remind us that the workers on Deepwater Horizon have lives off the rig (because something about Gina Rodriguez’s attempts to fix up her car just isn’t that compelling, even if her emotional trauma is). And, no matter how many names are thrown around, you are going to start having to refer to the characters in simple terms to keep them straight. Evil BP guy. Crane operator guy. Young floor guy. Russell is…well he’s Kurt Russell so you can get that one okay. There is just so much happening once the ball gets rolling that you don’t know where you’re looking, and you only know one person is most definitely going to be alive by the end (that’s not a spoiler, Wahlberg’s character gives a real-life recording at the very beginning of the film as an introduction).

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This film was quite a risk for Hollywood’s preferences – it’s estimated cost was $110,000,000, which is the kind of money these days that get thrown around for superhero movies, sequels, or major epics like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, but far less for stand-alone biopics like Deepwater Horizon. Not that the money went to waste – the rig used in the film was constructed entirely as a set piece, possibly the largest set piece ever created for a film like this, and they did have to blow a large portion of it up. And visually the film is spectacular, so clearly the director and editors knew what they were doing with this cash. As of November 4th (nearly two months after the initial release) the film has only estimated to make back about half of the estimated budget in the US, which begs the question of whether or not another film like it will ever be made. And it is primarily a US film, even if it’s not advertised that way – there are a few touching flags scenes to make it clear for you if you didn’t already realize it. So in a world where superheroes and fantasies dominate our theaters, where do movies like Deepwater Horizon fit?

Maybe nowhere. Hopefully somewhere. Because for every superhero movie I’ve seen and loved, there are movies like Deepwater Horizon slipping through the cracks, movies that are fantastic and eye-opening and inspiring, even when you know that the movie will be about coming together when everything is falling apart. Sometimes we just need that feeling of togetherness in the face of tragedy.

4/5

Be sure to look into the BP Oil Spill if, like me, you’re a little young on the details. The movie tells you how, but don’t forget the importance of learning about the after.

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