Industrial debris flies through the air as mud and methane burst out of a high-pressure drill pipe on an offshore oil rig. The sudden release sends roustabouts and bottom-of-the-chain labourers soaring across the deck, blinded by a mixture of processed sludge and shattered fenestration. Gas meets flammable objects, and soon there are several five-alarm fires engulfing the area. A worker pounds on the door of a control room. Another is knocked overboard by the sheer force of discharge. A visiting British Petroleum representative, shocked by the current state of events, zombie-crawls to perceived safety. He finds none. It’s isolated mayhem in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.
Recently, the producers at Hollywood’s blockbuster factory appear to have realized something: Americans have a perverse fondness for reliving their country’s mishaps in IMAX. Blockbuster producers have been orchestrating movies full of explosions and mass chaos for decades, but it seems that they’ve upped their usage of recent events for primary source material. 13 Hours (2016) — Michael Bay’s highly politicized dumpster-fire from earlier this year — is a testament to this formula. American Sniper (2015) is another. Plenty of directors have tried this with 9/11, but so far, most have failed. Deepwater Horizon marks the trend’s latest instalment.
After directing action-thrillers like Lone Survivor (2013) and Battleship (2012), filmmaker Peter Berg has come out with Deepwater Horizon, which recounts the horrors of America’s largest oil spill to date. Centered around the perspective of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), a trusted electrician on the oil rig Deepwater, the movie simulates the hours before and throughout the April 2010 incident that left 11 crewmen dead and caused 4.9 million barrels of oil to seep into the Gulf of Mexico.
In the beginning, Williams warns his superiors from British Petroleum of the dangers of over-extracting oil, recommending that they run a test to ensure that all is well with the rig. His superiors only care for profit, though, and while they’re willing to concede to a test, they aren’t willing to accept its results.
A goateed John Malkovich plays the British Petroleum supervisor responsible for the mishap; his Southern drawl morphing the Burn After Reading (2008) actor into a bald Colonel Sanders. Malkovich, no stranger to playing the villain, easily conjures a convincing portrayal of corporate greed. Despite the test’s negative outcome, he brazenly rejects pushback from the rig’s crew and orders them to carry on, business as usual. Within minutes, everything falls apart.
Quite literally, half of this film is a continuous explosion. From the moment the oil-induced mud begins leaking out of the drainpipes, to the gratifying fade-to-black an hour later, Deepwater Horizon subjects its viewers to seemingly endless destruction. IMAX theatres crank the volume up, amplifying the incessant sound of colliding metallic detritus and flying shrapnel.
If only the movie hadn’t explicitly reveled in the semi-submersible apparatus’s destruction would its viewers be able to appreciate its dedication to holding big money accountable — an irony lost on none, hopefully. But rather than direct your anger towards Peter Berg, direct it at those who made this movie possible in the first place: British Petroleum.