Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 28 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 5; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
All day long the wicked covet, but the righteous give and do not hold back.
Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness…
And he said to them, “Take care!
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed;
for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
By clearly bringing out the almost numberless safety issues that B.P. (British Petroleum) refused to address this action/thriller aboard an oilrig platform also becomes a social justice film. Director Peter Berg, whose Lone Survivor three years ago took us to the violent battlefields of Afghanistan, this time shows that the peace time violence of a burning oil rig can be just as dangerous—and could have been prevented but for the greed of a large corporation trying to save money.
The opening moments of the film both sets the humanity of the film’s protagonist, chief electronics technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlenberg), and prepares us for the explosion on the oil rig to that will come that very day. Mike and wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) engage in early morning sex because he will be away for 20 days, and at breakfast their young daughter Sidney (Stella Allen) reads to them part of her school report “My Dad’s Job.” She explains simply the working of a deep-water oil drill, using a can of Coke and a straw as a demonstration. Suddenly the contents explode, forcing the liquid up the straw and spilling over onto the table.
The Deep Water Horizon rig is 49 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, so on April 20, 2010 Mike, crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), and some other returning rig workers, plus two BP executives fly in a company helicopter to the platform. A ship is anchored nearby, which will prove to be a life-saving factor. One of the BP reps is flying out to present a special award to Jimmy, but Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) has come to pressure the workers to speed the work up. Because they have run into so many problems drilling down through layers of rock they are 43 days behind schedule delivering oil. Jimmy tells him that there a number of safety issues to be addressed, but the impatient Vidrine does not take them seriously. When asked about them Mike says there are so many that it is hard to know where to begin. Vidrine waves them aside, insisting that they must press ahead and activate the operation in order to start making a profit. A test of the system would have cost over a hundred thousand dollars, he informs them, the two oil riggers understanding that he and the company place more value on dollars than its workers.
Of course, we know, what happens next. All through this first part of the film there are cut away shots to the pipe and machinery almost a mile below on the ocean floor. There is one bubble escaping from the floor, then another, then a stream of them, and later several other places where streams of bubbles are rising to the top. Ironically, when the first eruption of mud and oil blasts upward and outward Jimmy has just been presented with an award for safety on the rig. He is relaxing in his shower when the force of the eruption shoots him and the stall across the room, knocking him almost senseless, with the glass lacerating his body. Meanwhile Mark is in his room Skyping with Felcia. It will be several minutes before he becomes aware of the catastrophe that is enveloping the rig.
Outside the unfortunate riggers by the shaft are hurled and tossed around like ragdolls as mud, oil, and water continue to erupt. By quick cuts from person to person and to the gushing muck we are made to feel we are in the middle of the action. The technicians in the control center, which includes Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez, are frantically trying to shut down various parts of the system. At one point a junior chief refuses to shut down a vital system because he is not authorized to, despite Andrea’s pleading.
Now aware of what is happening, Mike finds the fallen Jimmy in his room and helps him to his feet so they can get to the control room and take charge. Amidst the rescue of fallen workers, one pinned down by a fallen girder, the calmness of Jimmy and Mike stands out. Later on, with the other crew members and two company reps safely on board the rig’s covered lifeboat, Mike and Andrea are still high up on a platform. Discovering they have been left behind, Mike calms the panic-stricken woman, telling her that they can safely jump into the water. Paralyzed by the fear that she will land amidst the fire of a blazing oil slick, Mike reassures her, walking to the edge and saying he is going to jump and she should follow. They both manage to leap out far enough to clear the fire.
Again a tale of real life heroics stands in stark contrast to the synthetic ones of the popular super hero genre. This true story of ordinary men adept at their jobs who emerge as saviors of the day is both thrilling and inspiring. Although the focus is upon Mike, Jimmy Harell’s role is important, both during the crisis, and before it when he tried to delay going on line because he knew that so many components of the system were not safe. After watching this film many viewers might be ready to throw away their BP credit cards. (Back in 2010 when the disaster occurred my wife declared we should never buy gas at a BP station, a sentiment with which I was heartedly in agreement.) Not only did 11 men pay for BP’s negligence with their lives, but the almost a quarter of a billion gallons of oil that polluted the shoreline killed a huge amount of wildlife and destroyed the fishing grounds and beaches of numerous communities.
There was an audible groan from the audience when an end card reported that two BP executives were brought to trial, but got off free—another example, along with those of big banks and Wall Street traders that if you are powerful enough there is no punishment for misdeeds in our society. I give the film producers credit that they name names, rather than resorting to fictional ones. As with other reality-based films, there are shots of the real characters displayed amidst the end credits, providing a touching way to wrap up matters.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the October issue of Visual Parables.