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Like most current documentaries on ecological themes, Trashed provides enough gloomily grim material to sink the Rainbow Warrior — with no shortage of harrowing information, images and prognostications. Fortunately this necessary infotainment pill boasts a highly effective sugar-coating thanks to the narration and on-camera presence of moonlighting co-producer Jeremy Irons, the widely-admired Oscar-winner making the most of his current small-screen prominence courtesy of Showtime’s recently-recommissioned hit The Borgias.
An obvious pick for green-themed festivals and channels, the Irons trump-card may yield a scattering of theatrical bookings — although some may decry this earnest consciousness-raiser as yet another example of celebrity-focused hand-wringing. A world-premiere slot at Cannes certainly won’t damage its long-term prospects, even if writer-director Candida Brady is content to competently recycle form and content familiar from so many non-fiction surveys of how man has failed to properly maintain spaceship Earth.
The specific focus here is on garbage of various kinds, starting with a trash-mountain on the Lebanon shore which has spread its effects far and wide across the Mediterranean, stealing beauty from the coastlines of numerous countries. As Irons surveys the scene in a battered straw hat and scraggly beard combo that makes him a dead ringer for Van Gogh, it’s clear from the outset that this is — despite Brady enjoying sole screenplay credit — is very much a personal project-cum-voyage of discovery for the versatile star.
The classically-trained Irons has long boasted one of the most characterful voices in the business, of course, and there are many worse ways of spending 100-odd minutes than in the company of this augustly silky thespian who shows agreeably quirky new sides to his character. This slightly bumbling, mildly eccentric Englishman makes an ideal audience surrogate as he asks various scientists and experts to explain complex scientific matters in layman’s language — clocking up a fair-sized carbon footprint as he trots the globe from waterland to cityscape — his friendly and disarming directness on this mission placing him closer to, say, Nick Broomfield than the blunderbuss interventions of Michael Moore.
Brady’s script has a playschool-simple four-part structure, examining the three main methods of trash-disposal — landfill, incineration and sea-dumping — each of which are found severely wanting, providing proof that bad habits can often die hard. Crisp digital cinematography by Sean Bobbitt present a range of disturbing images with unblinking clarity — and eventually any grounds for optimism become dispiritingly elusive. There’s a particularly shocking trip to a Vietnamese children’s hospital where we see the horrific long-term deforming effects of Agent Orange. Brady does, however, contrive to wrap things up on a tentatively upbeat note with an epilogue entitled ‘Solutions’ — though most of these suggested remedies are so small-scale and macro they seem like the proverbial band-aid on a gaping, terminal wound.
Something of a chorus of disapproval, Trashed doesn’t present itself as a rounded exploration of the issues it analyzes, many of which are the subject of significant controversy. Interviews with governmental officials or anyone who disagrees with its basic theses are non-existent, and we never really get to the bottom of who’s to blame for this betrayal of the Earth’s fragile eco-systems.
But while its techniques are manipulative — it’s certainly no margin-call to say that Vangelis’s two-dimensional score barely lets up from start to finish — the picture ultimately swerves pitfalls of hectoring preachiness. And, given the scale of the unfolding ecological crisis, we can arguably never have too many cinematic reminders of the last-call state in which we’ve semi-inadvertently found ourselves. And, sadly lacking anything resembling a time-machine, the urgency with which we must effect an overdue reversal of fortune.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Out of Competition – Special Screenings)
Production companies: Blenheim Films
Cast: Jeremy Irons
Director / Screenwriter: Candida Brady
Producers: Candida Brady, Titus Ogilvy
Exective producers: Jeremy Irons, Tom Wesel
Director of photography: Sean Bobbitt
Production designer: Garry Waller
Editor: Jamie Trevill
Sales Agent: Blenheim FIlms, Eastbourne, UK
No rating, 105 minutes.
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