Review: ‘Water & Power: A California Heist’ probes issues older than the current drought

A pipeline allegedly owned by Stewart Resnick, bringing water from Dudley Ridge to Lost Hills.
(Ted Gesing / National Geographic)

An end to California’s historic drought may finally be in sight, but it seems that the state’s water crisis is a mere drop in the bucket in relation to the decades of dirty dealings probed in the revealing National Geographic documentary, “Water & Power: A California Heist.”

From the Monterey Amendments, a contentious policy that favored select Central Valley farmers, to the current ecologically problematic practice of groundwater extraction which could potentially create vast sinkholes, corporate thirst for control over the aquifer is emerging as the next environmental battleground.

While the approach taken by filmmaker Marina Zenovich, who directed 2008’s “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” relies heavily on talking heads — Gov. Jerry Brown among them — she admittedly paints a compelling picture of timeless greed.


Speaking of Polanski, Zenovich cleverly contrasts current events with those depicted in his 1974 noir classic “Chinatown,” which depicted the manipulation of the water supply and government corruption in Los Angeles circa 1937.

Of all the film’s many commentators, perhaps none puts it better than Jack Nicholson’s J.J. “Jake” Gittes (via screenwriter Robert Towne) who observes, “Gonna be a lot of irate citizens when they find out that they’re paying for water they’re not gonna get.”

Eighty years later, it’s a price they still appear to be paying.


‘Water & Power: A California Heist’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

See the most-read stories in Entertainment this hour »

Movie Trailers