Joe Berlinger knows the miseries of metal. Working with Bruce Sinofsky, he crafted 2004’s Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, a cringeworthy keyhole into the band’s backstage therapeutic process. (It felt like high comedy.) Before that, the filmmaking duo tracked a miscarriage of justice involving a trio of teen headbangers convicted of murder; the two resultant exposs were called Paradise Lost—a third’s on the way.
Crude, a rage-making account of corporate colonialism, has Berlinger shifting elements—from metal to oil—and working solo, something he’s done before with confidence. While the injustices of the drilling industry (and the celebs who oppose it) seem well within his purview, there’s something a touch plodding about the effort. You wonder if Berlinger’s yin is better off with Sinofsky’s yang. The material here is dire: a multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit filed by Ecuadoreans who contend their Amazonian jungle has been toxified by Chevron. Berlinger intercuts footage of sludgy earth and cancer-stricken families with several compelling characters: a local Ecuadoran lawyer who makes his way into Vanity Fair’s “Green Issue”; a white Upper West Side advocate who shouts down his opponents; a Tilda Swinton--esque mouthpiece for corporate interests.
But with the introduction of Trudie Styler—whose husband, Sting, kicks off the third act with a Police concert—a knottier issue comes into play that Berlinger is way too soft on, namely how stars alter a cause. It’s not that Styler or Sting are insincere, but it sure is squirmy seeing our humble Ecuadoran lawyer with a backstage pass slung around his neck. Berlinger is fully invested here, but a little distance might have helped.—Joshua Rothkopf
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