2009 // USA // Joe Berlinger // November 15, 2009 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Tivoli Theater)
Director Joe Berlinger has had a uneven career--from the definitive West Mephis 3 documentary Paradise Lost to the bafflingly ill-considered Blair Witch 2--but he's never produced a work of socially-conscious agitprop like Crude. While the film hews to the general tone of slicker docs like The Corporation and Food, Inc., Berlinger has a much tighter focus. Specifically, Crude follows the fifteen-plus-year lawsuit that has pitted Chevron-Texaco against the native peoples of Ecuador allegedly poisoned by the company's drilling wastes. Strictly as a vehicle for raising awareness about a critical Third World environmental battle, Crude is absorbing and grimly presented stuff, with Berlinger avoiding the smugness or breeziness that plagues many progressive Issues Documentaries. Content to let his subjects speak for themselves, the director presents the story without narration, adding only title cards to explain factual tidbits. Accordingly, Berlinger can be forgiven the romantic character his rough style lends to this David-and-Goliath conflict, and even his dewy delight when celebrities such as the President of Ecuador and Sting get involved in the fight. Ultimately, the plaintiffs couldn't ask for a more straightforward, concise statement of the political, cultural, and emotional dimensions of their case than Crude.