Goliath [France]

Released 2022

SUNDAY 16 JUNE 2024 – 10.00 am
TUESDAY 18 JUNE 2024 – 8.15 pm
RUNNING TIME 122 minutes

Inspired by [but not strictly based on] a true story of residents in a rural town fighting a mega agricultural manufacturer of a pesticide they believe is responsible for cancers and deaths among their own.

Reviewed: Jane Fae
Woke, worthy and – if you have even a smidgeon of concern over the future of this planet – worrying in the extreme.  Goliath is that rarest of beasts; a genuine political thriller, with its focus firmly set on the politics, rather than some confected plot about assassinations, or palace coups.

Goliath asks the question of what those who care about the environment can do in the face of corporate lying, bullying and dirty tricks. At its heart are three impressive performances. We begin with the focus on Patrick (Gilles Lellouche), an environmental lawyer and campaigner, fighting for compensation following the death of a young woman from cancer. Because this, as the narrative quickly makes clear, is no sad accident of fate, but the result of breathing in a pesticide, tetrazine, peddled by evil megacorp, Phytosanis.

He is pitted against Mathias (Pierre Niney), a cold, calculating and frighteningly effective lobbyist, who has sold his soul to the aforementioned megacorp.
Between the two sits France (Emanuelle Bercot), schoolteacher by day, part-time worker, and reluctant activist, who has been pitched into the middle of this battle when her husband develops cancer, allegedly through exposure to this pesticide.
Plenty of room here for a pivot to the dramatic, at the expense of the issues… or for an upbeat “villains get their come-uppance/good guys celebrate”, à la Erin Brockovich. Thankfully, writer-director, Frédéric Tellier, who made his name directing TV police and crime dramas for a French audience, does not succumb to the temptation.

What we get here is a crisp, downbeat, clever exploration of the issues, combined with a whodunnit in which, unusually, we know the identity of the doer from the very start; but are left wondering, until the very end, whether they will get away with it. In this he is aided and abetted by his co-writers, Gaëlle Bellan and Simon Moutaïrou.

Political drama is fraught with risk. On the one hand, there is the danger, already alluded to, that those holding the purse strings will lose heart and blink, blunting the politics with superfluous action. On the other, the fear that most of us have when presented with anything tagged as ‘political’, is that they will inevitably tip towards preachiness, if not outright propaganda; and that is even before the inevitable boredom sets in from – yawn! – the dialectical analysis of the role of the proletariat in achieving blah blah blah.

OK. Interest to declare; axe to grind. I am far from unsympathetic to the analysis provided by Goliath, which, it pleases me to report, goes far beyond the simplistic banalities so often served up by Anglo-Saxon political film.

There is action here, some of it quite shocking. There are also long interludes of dialogue in which both sides get to put a point of view in what feels like a more than decent exposition of their case. But, see above: it is possible that my bias is showing and someone more attuned to the anti-eco side of the fence might disagree.

Though, if anything, it felt to me that, so keen were the writers to avoid accusations of partisanship, they stepped well across the line to make sure the villains got the space to put their arguments; and not just as straw men to be knocked down. No, at times, one was left wondering why anyone would listen to the whinging eco’s, whose arguments were all heart and feeling and very little hard fact.
Then one is reminded of two things: that the bad guys really are bad, and they are in it for the money; and that when their backs are to the wall, they will do some very bad stuff indeed.

Goliath is a gripping film with something to say to all of us.

Source: www.eyeforfilm.co.uk – Jane Fae 20/11/2023 Edited extracts accessed 1/1/2024.