Review: ‘Flint: Who Can You Trust?’ documentary is as messy as the water crisis it chronicles

A couple at a table, the man holding up a plastic bottle containing a yellow liquid.
Flint residents Sandra and Ricky Greene in the 2020 documentary “Flint: Who Can You Trust?”
(Cargo Film & Releasing)

The Flint water crisis is one of the more shameful and tragic episodes in modern governance and environmental management, and it deserves a documentary more focused, tightly reported and assembled than British muckraker Anthony Baxter’s “Flint: Who Can You Trust?”

Five years of filming the uproar and fallout of a dubious cost-cutting move in 2014 to switch Flint’s water supply from Detroit’s system to the polluted local river would mean a huge storytelling job for any documentarian. Baxter’s heavy reliance on the grim testimonies of an ignored, health-battered citizenry is understandable as an emotional tool — the totality is like a Stephen King horror story about a plot to decimate a town. But when you haven’t thoroughly explained how and why this disastrous decision happened, and why it took so long for the people to be heard, then the impact starts to dissipate at the umpteenth shot of bottled water being poured into pots and tubs.

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The second hour is thornier, in good and bad ways. The story of how mistrust is fanned, science gets ignored and citizen activists follow rage instead of facts when a publicity-seeking opportunist steps into the breach is a sad, fascinating arc. And the story of civil engineering professor and water-testing expert Marc Edwards’ going from town hero to combative pariah is interesting enough to be its own movie.

More puzzling is narrator/executive producer Alec Baldwin suddenly entering the spotlight interviewing Flint residents and the mayor — it’s hard to tell if Baxter is acknowledging he’s lost control of his own movie or buying in to the same star/activist allure that his film was investigating when it was Mark Ruffalo’s organization Water Defense stirring up controversy. If the goal is to relay what a miasma of suspicion and despair the water crisis created, “Flint” certainly suggests that, if regrettably by being its own well-intentioned if messy, unilluminating chronicle.

'Flint: Who Can You Trust?'

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours

Playing: Laemmle Glendale