Nothing deep in “Deepwater Horizon”

In the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, a judge placed most of the blame on BP. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier assigned 67% of the liability to BP, 30% to Transocean and 3% to Halliburton. I kept those percentages in mind as I screened the movie “Deepwater Horizon” when it opened on Friday.

I was also mindful of what Variety said in its review: “For a movie in which you can’t follow what’s going on for 75% of the time, ‘Deepwater Horizon’ proves remarkably thrilling — and could well become one of the fall’s biggest hits.” I agree with that assessment, though I was able to get most of what was going on and most workboat industry members should as well. But if you are expecting a deep account of who was responsible for the environmental disaster and why it occurred, you won’t get it from this film.

For the most part, “Deepwater Horizon,” which was a typical fast moving action and suspense-filled disaster movie, was true to Judge Barbier’s percentages. It placed most of the blame on BP. (BP leased the Transocean-owned Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig, and Houston-based Halliburton was the cement contractor on the Macondo well.)

The film, directed by Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) and based on an article in The New York Times, was a tribute to the 11 lives that were lost that day and the 115 survivors.

The Tidewater offshore service vessel Damon Bankston was featured prominently in the film for its role in rescuing the survivors. Alwin Landry, captain of the Damon Bankston on the night of the explosion, was featured in the film. It was not depicted in the movie (the Bankston was shown idling in the Gulf), but the OSV was tethered to the Deepwater Horizon waiting to load drilling mud when Landry and his crew heard the crude oil shooting up the well. Mud then rained down on the OSV before the first explosion on the platform. As workers jumped from the rig into the Gulf of Mexico to escape the fire, Landry disconnected the Bankston from the rig and his crew launched rescue boats to grab workers from the water. The film showed rescued rig workers on the supply boat’s deck. Seventeen workers with life-threatening injuries were treated on the OSV before Coast Guard helicopters flew them to shore.

The movie made it clear that BP bore most of the responsibility in the Macondo well blowout. The main villains on the rig that day, April 20, 2010, were BP well site leader Donald Vidrine, played by John Malkovich (with his horrible attempt at a Cajun accent), and Robert Kaluza, a BP engineer played by Brad Leland. The two were the highest-ranking BP employees working on the rig.

The film’s main hero was Mike Williams (played by Mark Wahlberg), the senior electrician on the rig. He is constantly seen citing BP for being too focused on cutting costs and saving money. Vidrine (Malkovich) is at constant loggerheads with Jimmy Harrell, offshore installation manager and the boss of the Deepwater Horizon, played by Kurt Russell.

The drilling project is months past schedule and millions of dollars over budget, and Harrell and the rig’s crew are shown finally relenting to pressure from Vidrine and BP and begin the process to finish the well. This involves removing the old drilling mud that was reducing the pressure of the oil below, and offloading it onto the OSV Damon Bankston. That’s when all hell began to break loose.

The disaster scene that follows encompasses most of the movie. Though it jumps around and is hard to follow at times, it was well done. Overall, the movie was very entertaining and tries in spots to do what another Peter Berg-directed film “The Big Short” does — to break down a complex subject and explain it to a mainstream audience. “Deepwater Horizon” is simply a decent disaster movie with the requisite heroes, so don’t expect a detailed account of the Macondo blowout.

About the author

David Krapf

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.


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    The vessel in the Movie is not the Damon Bankston.
    Although it is named as such it is actually a 265′ HOS vessel painted to look like a Tidewater vessel.
    The hull shape, superstructure, and size are different.
    (The Hull is black HOS, Tidewater vessels are blue)
    (Cap Rails are Orange HOS, Tidewater paints theirs Yellow)
    The movie could have benefitted from better character development, and less Hollywood action.

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    Ask anyone who has actually worked on a rig, especially offshore, and they will tell that movie was stupid as hell.

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    I knew the OSV’s namesake, Mr. Damon Bankston, when I worked in Tidewater Marine’s world headquarters office in New Orleans in 1974. I was secretary to Vice President Ray Hope and also served as international telex operator. In the latter capacity I interacted with Mr. Bankston every morning. He was the firm’s Executive Vice President and I remember him as a distinguished gentleman who always seemed somewhat stressed and serious. By contrast the firm’s president, Mr. John Laborde, usually appeared jovial with a ready smile. I remember feeling that Mr. Bankston must carry quite a heavy load on his shoulders.

    I suppose it was because I had been living on the West Coast at the time of the blowout, that until watching this movie I was not aware that it was a Tidewater vessel that had been tethered to the Deepwater Horizon and had played such a prominent role in the rescue. Hearing Mr. Bankston’s name, then, came as a surprise.

    My dad worked for Schlumberger for 35 years and if he were still alive I would love to get his take on the film. I can’t speak for its accuracy but I found it to be intensely gripping (except for the distraction of John Malkovich’s sadly ridiculous attempt at a Cajun accent).

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