3 Stars – Sobering


During the month of April, 2010, the United States experienced the worst oil disaster in its history.  Most of the world’s attention was on the cataclysmic impacts on the environment in the Gulf of Mexico and the shores of Louisiana, but few people know the horrors of the first few moments of the events that caused the disaster.  The blowout on the oil exploration rig Deepwater Horizon is the center of this story and is seen through the eyes of one of its workers and surviving heroes, Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg).

Given the complexity of the oil business and the amazing amount of technology that is required to feed the fuel of the industrialized world, it is surprising that the industry hasn’t experienced more ecological and human catastrophes.  Only two other major spills have risen to this level of disaster. 

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William SoundAlaska, on Good Friday, March 24, 1989, when Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef  spilling 11 to 38 million US gallons of crude oil over the next few days.  Twenty years earlier, on January 28, 1969, Platform A in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of California reeked so much damage to the environmental that it became the environmental “shot heard round the world” and launched the modern environmental protection movement that has touched every aspect of our lives ever since. 

Life on a rig is not a job you drive to every morning.  Mike Williams had just helicoptered 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana for a three-week grueling stint on what can only be described as a man-made city floating in the middle of the ocean.  While these rigs find and produce thousands of barrels of oil each day, the complicated nature of managing an enterprise of this size stretching from 15 stories above the sea to 10,000 feet below the seabed is mind-boggling. 

The Deepwater Horizon is owned by a private firm, but operated under a lease to British Petroleum (BP).  Every step of the drilling process is a dynamic tension between the time and money concerns of the investor (BP), and the safety oversite of the rig operator.  Here is where the simplest misstep can, and did, have catastrophic consequences.  At the center of the conversation was Vidrine (John Malkovich), a BP executive concerned about being behind schedule, and Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), the Deepwater Horizon safety engineer.  When Vidrine cut short a safety procedure to save some time over the objection of Jimmy Harrell, the end result was a blowout that caused the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars, eleven lives, the economy of three southern states, an enormous loss of sea life, and the reputation of the oil industry.

Counterbalanced against this corporate meltdown is the impact on the personal lives of those who made this rig their alternate home.  Mike Williams and his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) share a love that is endearing, but also one that exhibits the tension that comes from knowing that one of them is living and working in a dangerous environment and is separated by distance that is more than just miles.  Mike’s heroic efforts saved a number of people from the burning rig in the hour after the disaster began, but the traumatic stress that comes to the families waiting at home is equally palpable. 

Deepwater Horizon is more than a well-made disaster film.  It is a sobering reminder that we live in a world that is dependent on oil to survive, and at the same time, a fuel from the past that needs to ultimately be replaced with something that is sustainable, safe, and healthy for the environment.  We entered the 20th century believing that “oil” could be the chief building block of the new economy.  We now know that during the 21st century we need to transition off oil if the world is to survive ecologically, economically, politically, and socially.  However long that takes, we can never take short cuts for the sake of making money.  The human cost is too high.



  1. When known safety methods are shortcut for financial gain do you think the executives who make such a decision should be held criminally responsible?  Why do you answer as you do?
  2. Often we make decisions about our own economic life by how it impacts us rather than how our purchases impact the environment.  How do we overcome this self-obsession?
  3. What are you doing to help change the world and make it safer?



Posted on October 5, 2016 and filed under 3 STARS, SOBERING.