Skip to main content

Deepwater Horizon | Real-life disaster movie pits blue-collar heroes against corporate villains

Deepwater Horizon Mark Wahlberg
(Image credit: David Lee)
(Image credit: David Lee)

The pressure builds and builds in real-life disaster movie Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg's gripping account of the events surrounding the 20 April 2010 offshore drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and caused one of the biggest environmental disasters in history.

Pipes judder, valves strain and needles tip alarmingly into the red as the film chronicles the events on board the rig leading up to the fatal blowout. Yet when calamity strikes it's not just oil, mud and seawater that come gushing forth but the viewers' anger and indignation as well. By then, the film has left us in no doubt who to root for and who to boo. It couldn't be clearer, corporate greed and laissez-faire negligence lie behind the disaster.

The good guys are the story's blue-collar working stiffs, notably electronics technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg, here playing another real-life hero following his role in Berg's Afghan war drama Lone Survivor), his young colleague Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), and stalwart crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), all of them workers for the rig's owners, Transocean.

Deepwater Horizon John Malkovich

(Image credit: David Lee)

"Human drama and explosive spectacle"

The chief baddie is John Malkovich's glib, insouciant, goatee-sporting BP executive Donald Vidrine, who is on board the rig to supervise the drilling. And, in this telling of events, it is his impatience with delays and concern for cost-cutting that triggers the disaster.

In reality, things were not nearly so clear cut. Blame for the disaster was more widely shared than the film suggests. Take that into account, though, and Deepwater Horizon remains deeply stirring. Berg skilfully ratchets the tension as events unfold, involving us with his leading characters and somehow convincing us that we understand the technical jargon they spout. And when the crisis erupts, he combines rousing human drama and explosive spectacle to thrilling effect.


Certificate 12A. Runtime 108 mins. Director Peter Berg.

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.