Crude, a Sophisticated Eco-Doc 


Directed by Joe Berlinger

Leave it to Joe Berlinger to make Crude, his account of an Ecuadorian community's decade-long fight against Chevron Oil, a compelling, multifaceted cinematic surrogate trial. Berlinger's Brother's Keeper, a 1992 expose on the implausible homicide charges filed against two developmentally challenged twin brothers, set the standard for investigative cinematic journalism.

With Crude, Berlinger once again shows his skill for even-handed humanist storytelling, which demands its audience judge what looks like another case of the disadvantaged people vs. a soulless corporation. Though a coda at the film's end relates that in real life it looks like it may take the Ecuadorian Cofan community a decade to get a ruling on their case against Chevron, who they claim dumped toxic chemicals in their waterways, Berlinger raises awareness of their plight while also keeping the film almost impartial.

The smartest decision Berlinger made as he assembled Crude into another of his characteristically smart-looking narrative-bound docs was to allow Chevron's lawyers to tell their side of the story. The combative relationship between Pablo Fajardo, a local hero and public advocate leading the case against Chevron, and Adolfo Callejas and Diego Larrea, Chevron's slick, almost convincing lawyers, is so much more compelling knowing that there are visible human faces defending both sides. Their respective cases are established through a series of confrontations and accusations that ping-pong between both sides. It's a constant fight between opposing interests and hence one the viewer can really engage with.

Berlinger's biggest misstep comes from the inordinate amount of time he follows Trudie Styler, celebrity do-gooder and Rainforest Foundation co-founder, as she helps to promote Fajardo's cause. It's an unwelcome reminder that the film does, of course, have a bias and that we are, in fact, expected to root for the little guy before he earns his victory.

Opens September 9


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