“At the end of the day, the most we can do it search for the truth, learn from it, and most of all, defend it.”
These words, spoken by CIA agent turned radio talk show host, sum up the underlying theme of A Dark Truth, the new Andy Garcia-starring film, written and directed by Damian Lee. The story, apparently based on true events, tells of a multinational water purification company’s disturbing involvement in the massacre of an Ecuadorian town over water rights, and the activist, a man named Francisco Francis (Forest Whitaker) who tries to get the truth out to the world while protecting his own young family from the soldiers hunting them.
Meanwhile, a young Ecuadorian man, Renaldo (Devon Bostick), witnesses his mother shot to death in front of him when the soldiers begin the massacre, and he manages to escape. But he is not just a panicked resident – he is the assistant to ClearBec’s man on ground, Tony Green (Steven Bauer), whose efforts till then have involved keeping things covered up about the real results of their purification systems in the country. Renaldo finds his way to Toronto, and confronts Morgan Swinton (played by Deborah Kara Unger), the sister to ClearBec CEO Bruce Swinton and the company’s biggest shareholder, who is just leaving an obligatory fundraising launch at a children’s hospital.
“You will remember my family,” the young man says, before shooting himself in the head in front of her.
When the shaken Morgan gets back into her car, she realizes Renaldo has left her a voice recorder. In the recording he details, while gunshots go off in the background, exactly what’s been going on in Ecuador – the so-called purification of the water leading instead to an outbreak of typhus, the sick and dying being gunned down to cover it up – all of which she was apparently oblivious to.
“Francisco Francis is a great man,” the recording concludes. “If he is alive you must help him. God help you if you don’t.”
Guilt makes Morgan confront her brother Bruce (Kim Coates), who is the epitome of the slick, coldly-calculating corporate CEO, and when he attempts to first defer her concerns, and then threaten her financial security when she refuses to budge, Morgan realizes that she needs to dig deeper and expose what’s going on in Ecuador. And so she calls Begosian.
Garcia’s character, Jack Begosian, is a Toronto-based late night talk radio host, who has philosophical, ethical and moral debates with his callers to the show, aptly entitled The Truth. But there is more to Begosian than meets the eye, and it is soon revealed – by a caller to the show, no less – that Begosian is a former CIA operative who left the organization in disillusionment, and wrote a damning book of his experiences for which he got in trouble with the agency.
Nowadays, he keeps his head down, working in Toronto but living with his wife (Lara Daans) and young son in a country-style home outside of the city. He has cut all ties with his former life, and appears to want to keep it that way, but when the past comes calling, he is forced to answer. Because as much as he tries to ignore them, some skeletons won’t stay buried.
As he tells his wife when asking her blessing for the mission,
“There was a name mentioned…Francisco Francis. If he’s alive and in trouble, I need to help him.”
“I owe him?”
“It’s best you don’t know…”
The story is an eco-thriller, so to speak, with multiple viewpoints – Francisco Francis as he and his wife Mia (Eva Longoria) hide out in the jungle with their children and other survivors; Begosian, as he tracks down Francis and reflects on his past moral failings; Morgan as she attempts to make up for her family’s bloody legacy, her brother Bruce as he negotiates a multibillion dollar contract with the South African government, while trying to clean up the Ecuadorian affair so it doesn’t affect the current deal, and Torrance (Kevin Durand), the hired killer that Bruce has gotten at the advice of his shady right hand man Calder (Al Sapienza), who spies on Morgan and waits for the signal to pull the trigger. Meanwhile, Torrance, no mere puppet, familiarizes himself with the situation, and becomes very interested in Begosian, as well.
The action jumps from glass-encased office towers in downtown Toronto, to the danger-fraught jungles of Ecuador, and while it functions well as an action thriller, it is also a film which demands that the viewer acknowledge the moral and ethical questions inherent in the atrocities it portrays. In doing so, the script takes from media accounts of true events, as well as recorded interviews with real people involved in the events the film is based on, which should certainly give it a ring of authenticity, but as a result the dialogue comes away feeling a bit too didactic at times, and somewhat heavy-handed.
When Tony Green has a change of heart after seeing the soldiers kill all the protesting residents and is subsequently arrested, he says,
“The reason this has happened is too many people have too much, and too many people have too little.”
When Francis talks about the massacre in Ecuador, he says,
“The reason the ClearBec incident is so horrible is that it exposes the lengths that corporate interests will go to protect themselves.”
And when Morgan turns whistleblower on her own company, at the expense of her relationship with her brother, Bruce, she says,
“My father taught me everything has a price, but not everything should be for sale…Remember what daddy used to say? It’s never too late to do the right thing.”
The scenes are intercut occasionally with scenes of Begosian at his desk and microphone at work, discussing morality and ethics with his callers. This serves the function of being a revelatory device, almost like a Greek chorus explaining things in Begosian’s past that a different film might have used flashbacks to portray, as well as attempting to provide character motivations.
For instance, when a caller asks what made Swinton step over the line, Begosian responds,
“We all have demons, each of us. It’s not about greed, it’s fear, selfishness…I’m not defending him, I’m not excusing him, I’m not excusing myself.”
There is also a sense of things being too-neatly wrapped up at the end. Perhaps it’s a habitual cynicism born of a disdain for Hollywood endings, or maybe it’s the fact that things are rarely that easily resolved in real life – and this is a film supposed to be based on real life.
However, A Dark Truth is certainly a timely piece, as concerns about environmental disasters and corporate interests superseding human interests are probably at an all time high. It brings out strong performances from renowned actors and fresh faces alike, but probably the best thing about it is that it draws to the forefront issues that are often in the headlines, but are too quickly forgotten in the face of the next big disaster.