Crude (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner13/01/2010

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 110 mins

Superbly directed, powerfully emotional documentary that grips like an expert legal thriller – by turns uplifting, suspenseful and utterly devastating, this is likely to be one of the best documentaries of the year.

What's it all about?
Directed by Joe Berlinger, Crude is a documentary about a long-running lawsuit brought by a multinational legal team on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadorians against US oil company Chevron, over the pollution of a large stretch of the Amazonian rainforest. The plucky underdogs in the epic, David vs Goliath legal battle are fiercely driven native lawyer Pablo Fajardo (who took the case with just three weeks' experience) and his American, Harvard-educated legal adviser Steven Donziger, who also turns out to be something of a PR whiz, securing both a prestigious slot in Vanity Fair's green issue and the subsequent celebrity backing of Trudie Styler and Sting.

Meanwhile, Chevron's lawyers and spokespeople try all manner of tactics to delay proceedings as much as possible but the case receives a huge boost of hope when Ecuador elects progressive left-wing president Rafael Correa in 2007.

The Good
Berlinger wisely dispenses with voiceover, instead relying on the occasional caption and a fly-on-the-wall approach, interspersed with occasional to-camera pieces and interviews with the main participants. As well as Fajardo and Donziger (both of whom emerge as strong, likeable characters), these include several of the victims (whose stories are utterly devastating) and, in the interests of balance, various Chevron spokespeople and lawyers, one of whom receives satisfying comeuppance at the end of the film.

The Great
The editing is extremely impressive throughout, to the point where you get thoroughly absorbed in the case; consequently, there are some extremely suspenseful sequences, particularly when the court appoints an independent expert to pass a definitive judgment on the level of pollution. The film also offers an intriguing perspective on the importance of celebrity endorsement – the scenes of Trudie Styler being shown around the jungle are borderline excruciating in places and yet there's no denying the phenomenal impact her passionate involvement has on both the case and the lives of the victims.

Worth seeing?
Crude is a superbly directed, thoroughly absorbing documentary that exerts a powerful emotional grip. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 20/09/2017 21:14

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