Recent years have seen a number of acclaimed documentaries -- Flow, Blue Gold and others -- that examine the issue of water rights for the world's poor and developing nations. Now, like 2006's Blood Diamond and the new release Promised Land, comes a dramatic re-enactment of the issues, with Hollywood heft in place of talking heads.
Unfortunately, this fictional film from writer/director Damian Lee trades in stereotypes and clichés, depicting the thorny issue of water management as a clash between saintly do-gooder Francisco Francis (Forest Whitaker) and corporate money-grubber Bruce Swinton (Kim Coates), the latter backed by an evil South American general.
The film, which takes its time gaining narrative traction, opens with a military attack on a small Ecuadoran town where Toronto-based ClearBec -- headquartered in the Metro Reference Library from the look of it -- has taken over water management and prohibited farmers from so much as collecting rainwater. When an epidemic breaks out, it responds by liquidating the locals.
CEO Swinton hears about the massacre from his local lieutenant, but prefers to wash his hands of the affair. Since the Ecuadoran army is not officially in his employ, he reasons, he's not at fault. Besides, he's about to close a major deal in South Africa and needs to avoid the whiff of scandal.
Things get more complicated when his sister, Morgan (Deborah Kara Unger), takes an interest in the injustice and hires an ex-CIA operative to go down and check things out for her. Andy Garcia turns in a Valium performance as Jack Begosian, a monotone-voiced talk-radio host who darkly hints to anyone who asks (and several who don't) that he's done things he's not proud of. Helping Morgan is presumably a way to cleanse his soul.
What follows is a lot of talk of damage control and keeping things quiet from Swinton, whose underlings are even scarier than he is. They include Thunder Bay native Kevin Durand as a hired gun named Tor. (He also played gun-packing bodyguard Torval in Cosmopolis; this is the kind of trivia that gets a film critic through the winter.)
Begosian flies to South America, improbably disguised as a Canadian nature photographer; he doesn't have a camera, though he does shoot a lot. Despite Garcia's incessant under-emoting, this is where the film becomes most interesting/violent, as he finds Francis and his wife (Eva Longoria) and tries to keep them alive long enough to tell the world the truth. The corporate chitchat is wisely left on the back burner.
But it's not enough to save the film from its own lethargy. Too many scenes take place in wood-paneled rooms and feature people in suits delivering vaguely threatening dialogue into telephones. When gunfire erupts, in the South American jungle or on Toronto's Front Street, it feels like someone forgot to hit the snooze button.
The issue of global water management is an important one, but A Dark Truth -- at one point called The Truth, which is the name of Begosian's radio show -- skims over the complicated details and settles on middling drama. The closest it comes to embracing a kind of moral ambiguity is when Garcia's character accuses his South American contact of working for both sides. "Yeah," the man admits, "but only one at a time." At least neither of the Swinton siblings stoops to saying that blood is thicker than water.
-- Postmedia News
Selected excerpts of reviews of A Dark Truth:
A lightweight flick about a heavy-duty subject, A Dark Truth plays like a TV movie back in the days when TV wasn't worth watching.
-- Rick Groen, Globe and Mail
The film's heart is in exactly the right place, but there's not a brain in its pretty little head.
-- Chris Packham, Village Voice
A self-serious eco-thriller assembled with a competent but heavy hand.
-- Justin Chang, Variety
For all the attempted intrigue and mayhem, the film is dullsville, mired by a poky script, unremarkable action and, the hard-working Garcia aside, uninspired performances.
-- Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times