Crude Movie Review
Starting in the early 1960s, Texaco began drilling for oil in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest, displacing indigenous groups with polluted rivers and causing health problems for generations. In 1993, the poor residents of this area filed a class-action suit against Texaco (now owned by Chevron), which has been dragging through the courts ever since, delayed by lawyers and Ecuador's political instability. Chevron denies all blame, pointing the finger at PetroEcuador, the nationalised company that assumed ownership of the drilling sites in the 1990s. But human rights activists and lawyers argue otherwise.
The film follows the work of two lawyers arguing the case against Chevron: the American Donziger and the Ecuadorian Fajardo. These guys make a great team, and the cameras capture their interaction and camaraderie in some very testy situations in the isolated rainforest, the capital Quito and several American cities. They eventually attract rainforest activist Styler and her husband Sting to their cause. Not to mention a major spread in Vanity Fair and a hero award from CNN.
But will all of this public attention change anything? These essentially powerless people are taking on one of the biggest corporations on earth, with slippery-tongued lawyers and experts who constantly shift blame and lobby governments to rule in their favour. The raw fact is that if Chevron-Texaco had done anything like this in America there would be people in prison as a result.
Filmmaker Berlinger assembles this film like an international thriller, following these people as they battle against a system weighted against them.
They get a huge break with the 2006 election of populist Correa as Ecuador's president, and indeed several rulings have gone in their favour since then. The film wobbles a bit in its insistence on showing us every back-and-forth event over these years, which gets a bit tedious as we soon understand how intractable the situation is. But it's such an important, moving story that we come away feeling like we want to do something to help.