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. You know the dull drill: The plot groans, the exposition clanks and the characters speechify like pols on stumps, all in the good name of addressing a socially relevant and highly important topic. No doubt, everyone means well.
Here the topic du jour is the privatization of water resources in Third World countries by nasty global conglomerates. The real country in jeopardy is Ecuador; the fictional company in villainy is Clearbec, headquartered in, of all places, Toronto (or, as the movies are fond of specifying, Toronto, Canada). Who’d have guessed we harboured such ne’er-do-wells?
Seems Clearbec’s filtration system malfunctioned and prompted an outbreak of typhus that wiped out an entire village. The tragedy gave rise to a local protest movement, which became the target of Ecuadorean government soldiers in league with the conglomerate, which is, of course, keen to hush up the whole affair in order to get on with the lucrative biz of privatizing water resources elsewhere. How do I know this? Many characters making many speeches told me.
Among them is Jack (Andy Garcia), an ex-CIA spook turned Toronto talk-radio jock. Oh, that old résumé again. Anyway, having seen the error of his spying ways, broadcaster Jack is now fond of lofty discourse on land and water rights. Sometimes he makes like a philosopher with a romantic bent: “The basic nature of mankind is good.” Sometimes he makes like a media critic with eye-popping revelations: “The news doesn’t have to be truthful any more, just entertaining.” Always, he’s an earnest soul – truthful, sure, but definitely not entertaining.
Early on, writer-director Damian Lee intercuts fiercely between the jungles of Ecuador, where the peasants are suffering, and the canyons of T.O., where the CEOs are posturing. Presiding over Clearbec is the bottom-lining Bruce (Kim Coates), whose speeches run to the likes of, “I have shareholders to answer to.” His sis Morgan (Deborah Kara Unger) contents herself with opening hospital wings and harbouring depressed thoughts, which grow gloomier still when she gets wind of the company’s Ecuadorean misdeeds. To soothe her conscience, she must hire a truth-seeker to head down to South America and, well, seek truth. Hey, who better than an ex-CIA spook turned talk-radio jock?
Down in the jungle, Jack proves he’s still a dab hand with a weapon. Right quick, the guy is gunning down soldiers by the dozen while rescuing Francisco the protest leader (Forest Whitaker) and his sweat-stained yet gorgeous spouse Mia (Eva Longoria), intent on flying them back north for a tell-all appearance on his show. Nor does the action stop there. Damned if the climax isn’t a mass shoot-out on the mean streets of Toronto. Homicidally speaking, the city comes off world-class.
On the subject of world-class, it’s somehow both heartening and saddening to watch an actor of Whitaker’s magnitude strive so mightily and honestly to breathe life into this moribund dialogue. Such a huge talent, such a stifling role. Now that TV is worth watching, he might consider graduating from the big screen to the small – a gift like his shouldn’t be wasted.