A Dark Truth is a second-rate action thriller with a first-rate sociopolitical message. I applaud writer/director Damian Lee for attempting to make audiences more aware of the depths to which corporate greed and exploitation can go. At the same time, I fail to see why he had to rely on a formulaic and predictable plot that’s apt to meander and characters that are either underutilized or developed solely on overused clichés. Perhaps the issue lies in the melding of two genres that, with very few exceptions, don’t work together very well. I think it would have been better for Lee to either disregard his political agenda and make a straightforward fictional thriller or forego the thriller elements altogether in favor of a to-the-point, taking-a-stance political drama. The latter reeks of partisanship, but at least it would be consistent in structure.
Central to the plot is a Canadian water filtration company, which is complicit in a massacre that took place in a small village in Ecuador. Although I don’t have the research to back me up, my guess is that Lee’s inspiration was the Cochabamba Water War of 2000, in which the destitute population of Cochabamba, Bolivia protested the privatization of the city’s municipal water supply; a dramatic increase in water rates, fueled by the water company’s investment in the construction of a dam, led to public demonstrations so numerous and severe that the city’s economy essentially halted for four straight days. This historical event served as the backdrop for the vastly superior Spanish film Even the Rain, which made a political statement largely through characterization and didn’t have to resort to tiresome action-oriented conventions.
But back to A Dark Truth. Several characters weave in and out of the story, but unfortunately, only a handful of them have a vital role to play. Let’s begin with Bruce Swinton (Kim Coates), the head of the Canadian water filtration company, which was founded by his father. In a small Ecuadorian village, where the company has seized control of municipal water sources, a typhus outbreak has led to numerous deaths; it’s soon revealed that the outbreak occurred because of the newly installed water filtration system, which couldn’t handle a flooded river and the resulting sewage backup. Knowing that word of this would ruin his chances of closing a deal with a South African company, Bruce saw to it that a local branch of the Ecuadorian military would eliminate the villagers. Indeed, just about every scene in Ecuador consists of soldiers gunning people down as they run away in terror.
Bruce’s sister, Morgan (Deborah Kara Unger), is technically a partner in her father’s company and yet has been relegated to luncheons, public appearances, and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, where she remains ignorant. After such an event, she’s approached by a young man who escaped the Ecuadorian massacre, Renaldo (Devon Bostick); in protest for what her company did to his village, he blows his brains out right in front of her. This, coupled with a series of Renaldo’s audio recordings, motivates her to investigate the massacre and the company’s role in it. But she needs help. Here enters Jack Begosian (Andy Garcia), a former CIA operative who has since become the host of a radio talk show dedicated to the truth, a broad topic if ever there was one. Having distanced himself from his wife (Lara Daans) and young son (Peter DaCunha) over disgraceful actions from years earlier, he accepts Morgan’s offer to fly to Ecuador, round up survivors, and get their story told.
Unfortunately, Bruce and his cronies are onto Morgan, who’s now being closely monitored by a stealthy sniper (Kevin Durand). Bruce also sees to it that the Ecuadorian military is made aware of Jack’s presence. Once in Ecuador, Jack seeks out the man who nearly exposed the water company’s involvement. This would be an American-born activist named Francisco Frances (Forest Whitaker), who has been branded an ecoterrorist and has lived in exile with his wife (Eva Longoria), children, and followers in the mountains. There will eventually be an escape sequence with a lot of shooting. Distressingly, guns also feature prominently when the leads convene back in Canada, at which point I began to forget that the film was intended to be something more than a pedestrian action thriller.
I was quickly reminded, though; the instant the climactic final shootout ends, the epilogue begins, and that’s the point at which Lee’s political message comes across loudest and clearest. I wouldn’t say he’s being preachy, certainly not when it comes to the reality of water wars, which extends far beyond one incident thirteen years ago in a Bolivian city. I would say, however, that he’s misguided in saying what he wants to say. The only conceivable reason he added thriller elements to A Dark Truth was to make it accessible to mass audiences. It’s an understandable tactic, but there was very little chance that this approach would have worked, not when the message is so heavy-handed. If he really is this passionate about informing the world about water wars, which I agree isn’t reported often enough, perhaps he would have been wise to make a documentary instead of a fictional film.
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