REVIEWS of a documentary with an agenda like this one tend to beg the question: Do you agree with the main political point being made by the film? Thankfully, an answer is not required here, since "Crude" (2009) is mostly engrossing on its own merits, and seems to do a commendable job of presenting opposing views when, by today's standards of documentary features, it doesn't need to.
Let's be clear: Opposing views are presented, but they are not the main focus. The focus of "Crude" is to show the aftermath of a greedy American oil corporation, Texaco (subsequently bought by Chevron), as it enters a native community, exploits its resources, leaves everything decimated, and then attempts to cover it up through high-powered corporate lawyering.
This is told through the eyes of lead American lawyer Steve Donzinger, who looks exhausted as he speaks with Amazon communities, coaches speakers at the Chevrolet stockholder's meeting, and facilitates meetings with figures such as the newly elected President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, and um, Sting's wife, Trudie Styler.
Donzinger cuts an interesting figure as the man behind the curtain, pushing meek but dogged Ecuadorian lawyer Pablo Fajardo into the spotlight as the David to Chevron's Goliath.
Of course, the Donzinger role of "coordinator" can easily be interpreted in another light as "manipulator." This is the case made by Chevron, represented mainly by their lawyer in Ecuador in the trial (which is interestingly argued mostly at the sites in question, not in a court).
He and Chevron's chief environmental scientist hope to show that the case against their employer is a money grab. They argue further that their research hasn't found the amount of damage they are accused of causing, and any damage found likely came from a state-owned petrol company that forced Texaco off the land years ago.
Where does the fault truly lie? I don't know. Documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger doesn't force the issue, instead he provides a passive orientation to the film, avoiding hidden camera stings, pushy interviews, and seemingly allowing the case to speak for itself. It's a welcome relief when the title of the movie reflects the subject at hand, not the style of film-making.