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Deepwater Horizon (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 97minutes.

OK for children.

For anyone who either doesn’t remember this disaster or might have just seen some reports on television, this is a real eye-opener. Brilliantly recreated by Peter Berg, the rig with 126 crew members blew out on April 20, 2010. Not only did people die, but millions of barrels of oil were released into the sea.

This film is almost like a documentary in the way it captures the disaster. One of the survivors, Mike Williams (played exceptionally well by Mark Wahlburg) was a consultant on the film and he came on board when he learned that Berg was telling the story from the POV of the survivors and not just a semi-documentary of a major disaster.

Wahlberg says, “I was pretty adamant about having Mike with us the whole way. He was the last one on the rig, and he knew so much about what really happened there. I didn’t want to just meet him; I wanted him around and consulting with us the entire time. It turned out he was a great help to everybody. He had complete license to say, ‘hey, this didn’t happen that way. This is how it happened.’ He could stop us at any time and give us more to go on.”

The result is a film that gets an A+ for verisimilitude. What happens when the rig blows out is astonishing to behold. That so many survived was a miracle. The film captures the power and danger involved in pumping oil especially on an ocean rig. It is astonishing.

While the special effects are nothing short of spectacular, justifying the $156 million budget, what sets this movie apart is that there are also some fine performances. Gina Rodriguez plays Andrea Fleytas, who was the Deputy Dynamic Positioning Officer who had the important responsibility of maintaining the floating rigs position directly over the well using propellers and thrusters. Fleytas played a key role in what happened after the blowout. Rodriguez is a beautiful woman and pictures of Fleytas during the end credits show a remarkable similarity.

Kate Hudson also gives a good performance as Williams’ wife, Felicia. There are cuts to her at their home as she hears about the disaster.

Kurt Russell, Hudson’s step-father in real life, also contributes a fine performance as Jimmy Harrell, the offshore installation manager, who was basically in charge of the entire crew. The scene of his injury is grotesquely realistic and the makeup is superb. For one whose first memories of Russell are as a Disney teen star, it’s still a little jarring to view him as a greybeard.

I have saved the best for last however. John Malkovich plays Donald Vidrine, Louisiana – based British Petroleum manager, one of the film’s heavies. Malkovich always seems to steal every scene he’s in, no matter what the movie, and he does that here, also.

What we see on the screen in this movie is really just the tip of the iceberg. What you don’t see in this movie is that this spill actually lasted 87 days (what we see is just the first day) before a ceiling cap permanently closed the leak on July 15, 2010. More than 200 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill was 18 times the size of Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. British Petroleum estimated that the cost of the spill was $53.8 billion in fines, cleanup, and settlements.

Over 16,000 miles of coastline were affected in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Florida. BP eventually pled guilty to two misdemeanors, 11 counts of felony manslaughter, and one felony count of lying to Congress. This is the largest criminal resolution in American history. The spill covered 88,000 square miles of ocean surface. Over 8,000 birds, turtles, and mammals were reported dead up to six months after the blowout. More than 1400 dead dolphins and whales have washed up on America’s shores since the blowout. The spill created a Gulf dead zone (low oxygen areas in the ocean) that can reach up to thousands of miles.

I wasn’t expecting much when I attended the screening, but came away enormously impressed.