Deepwater Horizon: A gritty story, with Hollywood polish

This is a definite must see for anyone in the oil & gas industry, or otherwise – quite possibly the action film of the year. See it in theaters September 30.

Courtesy of Summit Entertainment


It’s rare that an oil & gas journalist gets to take a morning off to sit in a slightly too cool theater watching a screening of what could very well be the next Hollywood blockbuster. But that’s exactly what I did. After all, why wouldn’t Lionsgate want someone who actually knows what a blowout preventer (BOP) is to write a review that cites not only the film’s merit and entertainment value, but also its accuracy?

It was nice to be out of the office where I have been writing about the latest oil pipeline protests in North Dakota for what seems like decades. I was the only person in the theater aside from another journalist, Lionsgate reps and a few BP execs, interestingly.

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers and injured 17 others. The explosion caused the rig to burn and ultimately sink. The blowout that caused the explosion caused a massive offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and is considered to be the largest environmental disaster in U.S. History.

The film starts right off with a love scene, of course. After all, this is big Hollywood we are talking about (no worries, I will get to the big oil soon enough). Mark Wahlberg plays chief electronics technician, Mike Williams and Kate Hudson plays his wife, a self-proclaimed country girl.

Wahlberg’s character, a Transocean employee, spends time with his family before heading off for another 21-day sojourn on the Deepwater Horizon, Transocean’s semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) in the Gulf of Mexico about 40 miles south of the Louisiana coast.

The set was one of the largest ever built, according to Mark Wahlberg on Instagram.

Before Williams leaves, his daughter (played by Stella Allen) practices the report she is giving at school that day about what her daddy does on the drilling rig. She also demonstrates the process beautifully with a shaken up can of Coke, a thick metal straw and some honey – an experiment I am definitely trying with my 11-year-old son this weekend. The can of Coke quickly explodes which sets the foreboding tone for the rest of the film.

Director Peter Berg, who directed “Lone Star”, which also starred Wahlberg, quickly builds his main characters as they all meet up at a Bristow helicopter field ready to make their way to the rig.

If you are in the industry, pay attention to all the company name dropping - Bristow, Halliburton, Schlumberger (one of the crew even calls it "Slum-burger," because haven't we all) and many others. So, there is a little humor throughout - which gives the story line a human element.

Williams is joined by Andrea Fleytas (played by Gina Rodriguez), a young bridge officer in charge of the rig’s sophisticated navigation machinery, the crew captain Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) and two BP execs. Before taking off, Mr. Jimmy asks one of the execs to remove his magenta colored tie, as magenta is the color of the highest danger alert on the rig – the exec complies with an eye roll.  

From the moment you see the Deepwater Horizon in the distance you immediately recognize its glorious majesty. Deep blue water for miles. There’s a certain quiet, dark, beauty attached to such a powerful behemoth in the middle of the sea – something you wouldn’t believe or understand unless you’ve been close to one. The film’s imagery definitely gives you a glimpse.

An actual aerial shot of the Deepwater Horizon before the 2010 explosion.


Once on board, the arriving crew is met by two more BP big wigs, including rig supervisor Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) and Robert Kaluza (Brad Leland). From this moment forward the film is fast paced, introducing characters who are explaining technicalities you won’t get if you aren’t an offshore worker or know someone who is. But you won’t care because the characters are strong and the action is riveting.

Even if you know nothing about the workings of ultra-deepwater drilling rigs (this one in reality once drilled the deepest underwater gas and oil well in history at 35,055 feet), the film makers attempt to educate you throughout with written explanations in the corner of the screen regarding what’s going on in the scene. It’s actually very informative and does not distract from the action.

You quickly become aware that there is more than one boss calling the shots – one is all about safety the other is all about saving money. I will let you surmise who is who. Spoiler alert: BP, specifically the role Malkovich plays, is the bad guy.

Speaking of Malkovich, wow! His accent is spot on, and you almost don’t even realize that it’s him – which I suppose is a good thing. Wahlberg is also fantastic – likable, tough and quite easy on the eyes, if that’s your thing. Russell’s portrayal of Mr. Jimmy is strong – tough as nails, just like Snake Plissken in “Escape from L.A.”, only older and less rebellious.

An argument regarding the interpretation of the blowout preventer test quickly escalates with the ultimate decision in the hands of Vidrine. A decision that goes against the Transocean crew’s better judgement, most specifically the rig’s senior tool pusher Jason Anderson (played by Ethan Suplee of “American History X” fame).

Anderson was one of the Transocean workers who perished in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.

In the film, the decision to move toward completion comes down to BP’s unwillingness to spend more time and money on the project than absolutely necessary. A $125k quandary that ultimately could have saved lives.

If you’re a fan of oil & gas movies like “There Will Be Blood”, “Giant” and John Wayne’s “Hellfighters,” you know when disaster is about to happen by the faint hissing that gets louder and louder before the big BOOM that sends oil spewing, wreaking havoc and eventually creating an even louder, fiery explosion. At least that’s what happens in the movies.  I can only imagine that in the case of this film, CGI effects are used to the maximum to create the most edge-of your seat, white knuckle ride possible for the audience. Was the real event like it’s portrayed in the film? Probably.

From the moment all hell breaks loose, the film kicks it up a Hollywood notch with drama, effects, and a slight “Titanic” feel.

This is a definite must see for anyone in the oil & gas industry, or otherwise – quite possibly the action film of the year. See it in theaters September 30.

Courtesy of Summit Entertainment


The tears and angst kick in when the U.S. Coast Guard is alerted and you quickly remember that this film is based on a true story, and these tragic events really happened. This is also when you see more of Hudson as she plays the worried and nearly frantic wife.

The next 20 minutes or so shows Williams taking heroric measures to save Mr. Jimmy and injured crew mates all the while suffering from his own injuries. Williams has a brief breakdown, showing the absolute true human side of the story – the real life side.

The crew evacuates and Mr. Jimmy is sent off in the last remaining life boat, leaving Williams and Fleytas to jump into the fiery waters below.

Williams breaks down again after he’s safely on land wading through the press and the missing crew’s grieving family members.

The story smacks you directly in the face with an honest delivery and a wallop of hard hitting action. Wahlberg, Rodriguez, Malkovich and Russell give convincing performances of bravery, endurance and camaraderie – a respectable tribute to those who weathered the actual event. The leads are supported well with a strong cast of crew members and extras.

This is a definite must see for anyone in the oil & gas industry, or otherwise – quite possibly the action film of the year.

The film does not get into the long years of court battles and settlement agreements, but that’s OK, you can read all about it on

The film ends with a memorial tribute to the 11 workers who perished in the disaster.

See it in theaters September 30.

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