The Hollywood rendition of the Deepwater Horizon accident won’t be in theaters until next month, but survivors and critics have already been weighing in on the film.
Since the 2010 disaster, much of the media and legal attention has been on the major environmental impact of the spill. All told, BP has said it expects to pay about $61.6 billion total in costs associated with the cleanup of the millions of gallons of oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, as well as various criminal and civil penalty payouts.
But the upcoming film, starring Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell and directed by Peter Berg, focuses on the human cost. Eleven workers on the rig, which was drilling to the deepest depths in history, died in the accident.
In the wake of disaster — and while oil was still gushing into the Gulf — 60 Minutes aired an investigation that featured a harrowing survivor’s tale from Mike Williams, who was the chief electronics technician on the rig. One of the most terrifying aspects of Williams’ story is that he had to survive a 10-story jump from the inferno on the rig into the dark sea below to save himself.
Since the interview, Williams has become the de facto face of the accident, and his story was chosen as the anchor for the Hollywood film in which Williams is played by Wahlberg. (You can catch a hint of that dramatic leap in the most recent trailer.)
The only issue, one survivor told the Tampa Bay Times, is that the Hollywood treatment seems to be casting Williams as the main hero.
“From the trailers I've seen there's some people being portrayed as heroes and stuff, and they were not. Well, not that they wasn't heroes, but there was bigger heroes that should've been portrayed," Patrick Morgan, an assistant driller on the rig, said.
The “hero trapped in a disaster” angle of the film’s trailer has also drawn the ire of critics who say it is likely to portray the event as an unavoidable disaster, like tornados or earthquakes, without giving enough attention to BP’s safety failures. (To be fair, John Malcovich reportedly plays a BP representivive who underestimates certain dangers on the rig.)
But those involved with “Deepwater Horizon” have said that it isn’t the goal of the movie to rehash that element of the event.
"(The media) seemed to lose touch — at least some of the media — with the human element of the story," Wahlberg said. "They were focused on the environmental disaster, which was obviously horrible, but you're talking about 11 people losing their lives, and that's pretty substantial.”
According to Tampa Bay Times, the movie’s producers went to great lengths to be sensitive about the agony of the experience for the families who lost loved ones, while also being honest about what happened that night. They invited survivors on the set of the movie last summer and are planning a private screening of the movie for victims’ families. But one woman whose husband died in accident declined the invitation to view the movie alongside other victims.
"It's just a real big emotional roller coaster. Knowing that all of us at the end had to lose somebody, it's going to be pretty hard to watch. If I can get a DVD and watch it in my own house with my five boxes of Kleenex and a hyperventilating bag, it would be better," she told Tampa Bay Times.
There were 126 workers on the Deepwater Horizon when it exploded. And while the film makers are striving to do justice to the horror of the accident, Morgan told Tampa Bay Times he’s skeptical they’ll be able to capture the feeling of what it was like.
"There's a hundred people who know what happened on that rig," he said. "Hollywood sure don't know what happened on that rig."
The highly-anticipated film will hit theaters Sept. 30. Will Hollywood's love for dramatic imagry overshadow the true experience of rig workers and the role BP played in the run up to the disaster? We'll be have to wait and see.