'Evidence of Harm': Film Review

Courtesy of Randall Moore

An earnest but clumsy effort to keep medical debate alive.

Are the silver fillings in your mouth killing you?

Are the American Dental Association and a slew of other groups protecting a practice that causes illnesses as extreme as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's? That's the contention of Randall Moore's Evidence of Harm, which hopes to refocus public concern on a debate over dental amalgam that has been popping up for many decades. But while some of the arguments made here look persuasive (or at the very least worthy of investigation) to the layperson, the ham-fisted aesthetics and cherry-picked opinions of this first-timer's movie inspire little trust. Though quite possibly the kind of film that could attract a concerned following on video, it is unlikely to be the one that will provoke the next mainstream debate on the issue.

As mercury is toxic, it's not hard to understand worries over putting it in our mouths as part of amalgam, aka "silver fillings" used to fix cavities. But the technique, in place for well over a century, is defended on the grounds that in this form (as an alloy with other metals) mercury is inert and can do no harm. Critics counter that, even as a solid, fillings release vapor that can build up in patients' bodies, causing those who are genetically susceptible great suffering.

The first reason to look askance at Evidence as a guide on this matter is its overheated aesthetics: In addition to inoffensive amateurishness (using stock footage of candles and lightning storms to signify an "aha!" moment), Moore is guilty of employing pretty outrageous scare tactics (images of toxic waste and the like) that show he's anything but an impartial guide.

In terms of content, Moore is too reliant on too few subjects. We meet a newscaster and a dental hygienist who both believe they were sickened by mercury exposure. Both clearly suffered; both saw their health improve when they got mercury out of their lives. But how common are such stories, and do they mean what the patients believe they mean?

Similarly, we spend quality time with only a couple of dental and chemistry professionals, with no pedigreed journalists stopping in to vouch for their expertise. We watch a down-and-dirty experiment they claim is indisputable proof of the frightening amount of mercury vapor released by amalgam. But by this point we don't trust the film to let the opposition dispute their findings.

Moore does offer reason to mistrust former FDA head Margaret Hamburg, saying she was tasked with evaluating amalgam's safety despite serving on the board of large amalgam manufacturer Henry Schein. But it never explains why it thinks the ADA would so staunchly defend a potentially lethal treatment, especially when a nationwide campaign to remove silver fillings would earn dentists a fortune. There may well be a sinister reason, but it'll take a more level-headed film to make that case.

 

Production company: Ministry Machine Productions

Director-Editor: Randall Moore

Screenwriters: Randall Moore, Linda Wiedmaier

Producer: Randall Moore, Ty Jones

Executive producers: Aaron Laue

Music: Josh Myers, Chris Sweetland, Noel Selders, Landon Mayes, C.J. Drumeller

No rating, 74 minutes

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