This movie records the build-up and inferno that engulfed the massive oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The fireball could be seen more than 64km away. After the platform sank, the largest oil spill in US history devastated the sea and coastline. The film subordinates its people (11 of whom died) until they seem little more than the flying debris and waste.
This isn’t to say that the humans are irrelevant. On the contrary, from inception, it records various warnings and apprehensions of the workers — all met with sneers from the owners, particularly BP (which initially paid most in compensation, well over US$2.4bn).
The film strikes out against the arrogance of the oil industry — with Malkovich representing BP on the rig, his unique blend of kindliness and madness well on display — but takes the criticism no further than the flagged horrors of the blow-up itself. That we depend on and greedily crave money for a familiar fossil fuel is not examined. Perhaps it can’t? That might have to wait until the extraterrestrials arrive and give their judgment.
The rig was operating at unprecedented depths when pressures on the unmapped ocean floor led to the titanic gush. This preamble is given coherence and plausibility, though in the end debris and fiery material fly in all directions; we are soon made aware of the consequences of the catastrophe. But since this is not (or not precisely) a documentary, the actors have a distinct role before their individuality is erased.
Wahlberg is front and centre (his pining wife, Hudson, waits for specks of news at home), and he and Rodriguez make an effective team against the controllers of Deepwater Horizon, whose major concern is that the project is running very late, which will slice into their revenues. Life on the rig is tense and unprepared; only Russell as "Mr Jimmy", the captain, maintains his cool and judges what should and can be done. O’Brien (familiar from The Maze Runner) makes far less of an impact.
The personnel’s role (as suggested) is almost peripheral — except in the sense that they are intended to display coolness and self-sacrifice when the world around them detonates. The details of the disaster are well orchestrated with the blame, rightly or wrongly, being affixed to Big Oil. This lends conviction to the horrors to which they are subjected — the kind of hopelessness we witness in plane crashes or in crawling lines of refugees seeking to prevail against an unasked fate. Comparisons are inevitable.
The production cost of the movie ($156m) was subsidised by the state of Louisiana, but every frame bleeds its budget and rams home a lesson: if the world so gorges itself on oil, is the real cost worth it? There are god-awful payments to executives, vast areas of destructive pollution, the extermination of wildlife and encroachment on areas that ought to be left pristine, such as Antarctica, and the rending of ecosystems. Ideally, no; yet we crave power.
But when the lights flicker or go out, it’s not the vulnerable human slaves in the gouging platforms that are blamed, but the withheld management of the systems.
Oil is the treasure to be sought at almost any cost. This overwhelms pleas for green energy and the wind-farms and solar arrays seem puny in comparison.
One day — and it can’t be too far away — we will hit the wall of depletion, along with overpopulation and horrendous conflict.
Are we ready for that? Not remotely.
Directed by Peter Berg; docudrama based on the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster
Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson