‘Flint’: TV Re­view

Weekly Trust - - Entertainment - THR.com

The Flint wa­ter cri­sis gets re­spect­ful-ifun­re­mark­able treat­ment in a Life­time movie driven by stars Jill Scott, Betsy Brandt, Marin Ire­land and Queen Lat­i­fah.

There’s a col­lo­qui­al­ism we hear at­tached to cer­tain sto­ries: “It’s just like a Life­time movie!”

I watch enough Life­time movies that I don’t re­ally un­der­stand what that means any­more.

Yes, the ca­bler still does plenty of fic­tional women-in­peril movies, as well as real-life ap­proaches to the genre like the hi­lar­i­ous-look­ing up­com­ing The Lost Wife of Robert Durst, but Life­time movies also in­clude the oddly am­bi­tious and weirdly ex­per­i­men­tal les­bian vam­pire take on Mother, May I Sleep With Dan­ger? and a re­cent string of film-fes­ti­val duds, like that Nicole Kid­man thing where she played Grace Kelly. And that’s be­fore the network gets into its Hall­markesque string of hol­i­day movies.

All of this makes it hard to prop­erly ap­proach a Life­time movie like Flint. Easy to pi­geon­hole as a true-life women-in­peril drama, Flint is en­tirely non­ex­ploita­tive and hon­or­able in its in­ten­tions and largely av­er­age in its ex­e­cu­tion, el­e­vated mostly by a splen­did en­sem­ble of ac­tresses.

As you hope­fully are al­ready aware, Flint, Michi­gan’s 2014 de­ci­sion to switch wa­ter sources trig­gered a health cri­sis that was then ex­ac­er­bated and ex­tended by bu­reau­cratic ap­a­thy and an­tipa­thy, an en­vi­ron­men­tal disaster that has yet to be fully re­solved ei­ther in terms of short- term ac­com­mo­da­tions for the res­i­dents of Flint or long-term un­der­stand­ing of its im­pact.

Fol­low­ing in the “civil­ian ac­tivist” tra­di­tion of a Silk­wood or Erin Brock­ovich, Bar­bara Stepan­sky’s adap­ta­tion of the Time cover story “The Toxic Tap” fo­cuses pri­mar­ily on a trio of women who saw some­thing go­ing hor­ri­bly wrong in their com­mu­nity and went up against the dis­in­ter­ested and of­ten ob­struc­tive pow­er­sthat-be to try to save Flint.

Our pri­mary pro­tag­o­nists, all based on real peo­ple, are LeeAnne Wal­ters (Betsy Brandt), Melissa Mays (Marin Ire­land) and Nayyi­rah Shariff (Jill Scott). Only Scott’s Shariff be­gins the story as an or­ga­nizer en­gaged in Flint’s politics, but the loosely as­sem­bled tale fo­cuses on how on­line ra­dio DJ Mays and house­wife Wal­ters be­come in­volved, as the Flint cri­sis be­comes an on­go­ing ref­er­en­dum on eco­nomic sta­tus, race and gen­der roles. Some­what less in­te­grated into the movie are nurse Ad­ina Banks (Lyn­die Green­wood) and her mother Iza Banks (Queen Lat­i­fah, who also ex­ec­u­tive pro­duces), two roles that I be­lieve are fic­tional com­pos­ites and feel like it.

The tragedy of Flint, city and movie, is one of tiered marginal­iza­tion and in­sti­tu­tional fail­ings, a por­trait of what it takes to make bot­tom-line-ob­sessed white male au­thor­ity fig­ures take note of a night­mare that’s oc­cur­ring out­side of their zip code. Stepan­sky’s script is smart in terms of how it han­dles dif­fer­ent the ways in which women and mi­nori­ties and the eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged are si­lenced or ig­nored. As chil­dren and then adults be­gin ex­pe­ri­enc­ing rashes, seizures and ill­ness as a re­sult of the wa­ter, we seem how blame is shifted and dis­placed based on who is talk­ing.

The main char­ac­ters in Flint are thinly sketched, but the ac­tresses all nicely bal­ance har­rowed in­ten­sity with be­liev­able ca­ma­raderie, as part of a nar­ra­tive that be­comes repet­i­tive in ways that are both in­ten­tional and dis­ap­point­ing. Over and over again, th­ese women dis­cover that if no­body in charge will do the right thing on their be­half, they have to do it them­selves, which is where the hero­ism comes through. There’s a var­ied same­ness to what the women do, as they push for test­ing and seek out al­lies and play to the me­dia, all the while wor­ry­ing that they’re protest­ing into a void. The less var­ied same­ness is in deal­ing with the an­tag­o­nists, which isn’t ex­actly shock­ing since this is an on­go­ing case and the bad guys haven’t all been fully ex­posed or even self-jus­ti­fy­ing in real-life yet, but which doesn’t ex­cuse the num­ber of wooden, mus­ta­chetwirling sup­port­ing per­for­mances and their func­tion in the story. There’s so much out­rage to go around in Flint, both the city and the story in the tele­film, that the over-re­liance on one-di­men­sional bad­dies is drain­ing.

Os­car-nom­i­nated di­rec­tor Bruce Beres­ford (Ten­der Mer­cies) com­pe­tently blends some Flint ex­te­ri­ors with Toronto shoot­ing lo­ca­tions, with­out giv­ing the movie a strong sense of place. He de­serves some credit for the sturdy per­for­mances and strong chem­istry be­tween the ac­tresses, and also some blame for the card­board villains. There’s noth­ing Beres­ford or Stepan­sky can do about the open-ended re­al­ity of the calamity, an arc that leads to an un­sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion that prob­a­bly should have shifted the fo­cus to a look at what Flint looks like in fall 2017 and a clearer call-to-action re­gard­ing what can be done there and to pre­vent sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions, rather than try­ing to land on a hol­low “in­spi­ra­tional” end­ing.

Flint is still a re­spect­ful and re­spectable re­minder of a de­ba­cle that has yet to be re­paired, one that will be im­pact­ing count­less lives for decades to come. It’s a tribute to the power and ne­ces­sity of civil­ian ad­vo­cacy, well-por­trayed by Scott, Ire­land, Brandt, Green­wood and Queen Lat­i­fah.


A scene from ‘Flint’

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