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Crude - Movie Review - 2009

The Case Against Chevron

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User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)


Crude - Movie Review - 2009

Crude - Oil Slick with child's silhouette

First Run Features
The Texaco/Chevron contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon, dubbed the Amazon Chernobyl, is a much larger although lesser known calamity than that of the Exxon Valdez. Toxic chemicals have turned thousands of square miles of rain forest into a wasteland where nothing will grow, and several tribes of indigenous people have been brought close to extinction, along with the regions unique flora and fauna. Joe Berlinger's film exposes the extent of the damage and follows the 27-billion dollar law suit that the local people and international environmental and humanitarian groups have brought against Chevron.


After the film opens with a brilliant graphic showing a map of the Ecuadorian Amazon gradually obliterated by black blotches resembling pools of oil, a Cofan woman appears on screen. She sings about how her tribe being obliterated by pollution. Thus the skillful telling of this David vs. Goliath story begins.

We follow the young Ecuadorian lawyer, Pablo Fajardo, who represents the Cofan and other local tribes in their class action against Chevron, and the American attorney who's spearheaded the 27-billion dollar suit. We listen to Chevron's attorneys and scientists denying the multinational's responsibility, and suggesting that the case is a scam put forth by those who would profit from the misfortunes of poor rural peoples.

While the debate rages, we witness the rain forest through verite footage that shows toddlers bathing in a river covered with oil slick, infants with deformities and rashes, local fishermen having to eat imported canned tuna, ducks suffering torturous spasms as they lay dying on the river banks, white cranes covered with thick-as-glue black oil, corroded pipes oozing glop into the earth.

The startling footage, shot during the thirteenth year of that ongoing law suit, is intercut with interviews with politicians, scientists, environmentalists and human rights advocates, including Amazon Watch representatives, Trudi Styler and Sting, who take up the cause of the plaintiffs. The result is a compelling, dramatic and very moving presentation of an extremely important environmental and human rights story that impacts not just the rain forest, but the wide world.

Theme and Intent

Trudi Styler with Cofan kids who have cancer

First Run Features
The film clearly asserts that there's an urgent need for remediation of the thousands of square miles of rain forest that have been contaminated due to petroleum extraction initiated in the region by Chevron/Texaco in 1959. The environmental clean up is necessary for sustaining our planet, and is therefore of universal concern.

Additionally, we see that local tribes, with their unique traditions, knowledge and languages, are being wiped out because of the contamination of their homelands. In fact, one tribe that originally agreed to participate in the law suit has already become extinct. Despite its importance and magnitude, this situation and the law suit have been kept in relative obscurity in the media. This documentary focuses the international spotlight on the 'Amazon Chernobyl' and the law suit and other efforts being made to make things right.

Cast of Characters

Crude has a real life hero in Pablo Fajardo, the Ecuadorian lawyer who took over this major case just three years after becoming a member of the bar. Fajardo, who hails from rural Ecuador, is an articulate, dedicated, brilliant and modest man, And, amazingly, he'd never even heard of socially conscious celebrities Trudi Styler and Sting before they volunteered to support the plaintiff's cause. Although they're given equal time and opportunity to make their case, the lawyers and others representing Chevron seem phoney, superficial and self-serving in contrast to Fajardo, his colleagues and the local people who are suffering from the pollution and are the plaintiffs in the case.

Cinematic Style

Joe Berlinger is famous for his cinema verite approach to making documentaries. Crude fits that overall style, but this film seems to inch towards advocacy. It's not that Berlinger enters the scenario at any time or that he doesn't present both sides of the case, but by framing the issues with such extremely strong images of pollution and its adverse effects on tribal people and the environment, Berlinger winds up making a very strong 'see it for yourself' statement in favor of the plaintiffs.

Crude is a beautifully crafted documentary. The cinematography and editing are superb, and graphics -- like that opening map -- are used smartly and always appropriately. The soundtrack, which combines traditional tribal music with the contemporary sounds of Sting and an original score by Wendy Blackstone, strongly supports the images and underscores the issues.

Bottom Line

Crude is an important, heart-wrenching, alarming and brilliantly crafted cinema verite documentary that creates public awareness about an under-reported environmental disaster caused by Chevron/Texaco's oil extraction in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and the ongoing litigation in which indigenous peoples whose homelands and health have been desecrated are seeking justice.

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Film Details:

  • Title: Crude - 2009
  • Director: Joe Berlinger
  • Release Date: Theatrical, September 9, 2009 in New York City, followed by a national roll out.
  • Running Time: 108 mins.
  • MPAA Rating: Not Rated
  • Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
  • Location: Ecuador, New York. Houston, San Francisco, Denver, London and elsewhere.
  • Language: English and Spanish or tribal dialects with English subtitles
  • Production Country: USA
  • Production Company: Entendre Films, Red Envelope Entertainment
  • Distribution Company: First Run Features
  • Trailer

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