The tragic sequence of events at the Deepwater Horizon oil platform led to the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history. This movie could have been about that, but it wasn’t. The circumstances that led to the eventual tragedy on Deepwater Horizon was the result of many factors, including corporate greed supplanting the need for sound, safe practices; it wasn’t the only factor, but it was certainly one of them. This movie could have easily been about the evils of corporate greed and what it ultimately cost, but it wasn’t. Instead, what the Deepwater Horizon movie is about is the people who were involved with incredible event that has had such a long-lasting impact on everything from ecology to businesses to personal lives. This movie doesn’t look to assign blame or complicity; it simply reminds us of the lives that were so deeply affected by what happened on that rig. Instead of being preachy or political, Deepwater Horizon is a deeply personal and emotional movie, and all the more powerful because of that.
True, those looking for thorough explanations about why this all happened may come away disappointed; however, Deepwater Horizon doesn’t really aim to provide explanations, but more of an experience. The film lets you experience what the event may have been like, and it reminds us that the lives impacted were families and loved ones in addition to those who worked on the rig. Those looking for a blistering condemnation of the executives who may have helped this event occur will also be disappointed. Deepwater Horizon is pretty much a straight-up disaster flick, and spends its time exploring what it took for the people on that rig to survive the cataclysmic events that occurred instead of blatantly vilifying corporate greed.
However, while this film’s focus on people is its greatest strength, it’s also its greatest weakness because the people aren’t all that well developed. In fact, during the emotional conclusion to the movie, as it listed all those who died on the Deepwater Horizon, I had trouble remembering if we actually encountered any of them in the film. I’m sure we did, but they weren’t (minor spoiler alert here) any of the main characters played by recognizable stars. For a film that does a nice job of focusing on the human element, it was a missed opportunity to really give the film some heart and ethos by regulating those who didn’t make it off the rig as mere background players. The film concludes by showing pictures, often with family, of those who died; a powerful reminder that it wasn’t just that people died in this incident, but also that families were forever changed by it. However, that impact is somewhat lessened due to the fact one is trying to remember if we ever even met any of those characters during the movie. Even the main characters we do spend time with aren’t particularly deep. We quickly learn they all pretty nice, decent, hardworking people, and we learn all the BP corporate types are somewhat less nice and perhaps not as decent, and that’s about all the time there is for character development before things start blowing up.
Although we don’t really learn why things went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, and although we don’t even learn that much about the people who were on it, when thing do start going wrong, it’s a visceral and powerful experience. The “you are there” feeling and intensity as everything that could go wrong does, and the horrendous results of all that, is raw and gut-punching. Much like Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon really puts you in the moment so by the time it’s all over, you feel like just as much of a survivor as those on the screen. Sound design is particularly important here, as the screeching and straining of metal, the ominous sound of vibrations, and powerful gush of rushing liquid are every bit as important to the impact as the sight of huge explosions.
I’ve always found it fascinating that, regardless of one’s spiritual beliefs, in moments of crisis, people very often invoke God in one of two ways; either he is to blame, or he is to somehow magically rescue. People will ignore God, mock God, ridicule those who believe in God, but when tragedy strikes or our lives on the line, suddenly it’s either God’s fault or it’s his duty to do something about it. As has been wisely said, there are no atheists in fox holes. In this film, I very much appreciated the fact that it included a scene where all the survivors who made it off the rig and onto a boat take a moment to kneel and pray. They say the Lord’s prayer, because like so many of us who don’t have any use for God except in an emergency, it’s probably all many of them actually knew. However, the image of those men—dirty, bloodied, wounded, desperate—kneeling in humility and acknowledging a God who heretofore had not even been mentioned in any capacity brought to mind an important fact; someday everyone will do the same. One day, the Bible says, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The question is; will you do that out of humility and acceptance? We can say that we will not bend, we can be defiant and rebellious, but even those who refuse to call Jesus Lord will one day kneel before him. Personally, I’d rather do that now in favor rather than later out of forced compulsion. Times of tragedy remind us of our need for God; we can accept that need now, or we will accept that need later.
My friend who accompanied me to our screening felt that Deepwater Horizon was a horrible but really good movie. I thought that was an excellent way to sum it up. The real-life events were tragic and had far-reaching consequences; it was a harrowing tragedy that changed the lives of so many families forever. However, the cinematic adaptation of those events makes for a white knuckle, visceral, emotional film. I’m still wrestling with how something so tragic could be made into something considered “entertaining.” Nevertheless, despite its flaws and inherent shallowness, Deepwater Horizon is an exciting and emotional film that provides a sobering reminder of the cost hubris, life and circumstance sometimes cruelly extracts.
Score: 5 out of 7