Agitprop documentaries are prone to not just biased viewpoints but self-righteousness and condescension—a triple whammy to which The Big Fix can lay claim. Directors Josh and Rebecca Harrell Tickell’s film fixates on BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year that raged for months and polluted countless miles of prime New Orleans fishing ocean. It’s a crime about which the directors—never one to squander an opportunity to prop themselves up—bluntly vow to uncover the truth. This involves sneaking onto oil-stained beaches in the middle of the night and shooting night-vision footage of random shapes and sprays that cohorts claim are BP machines dousing the area with Corexit, a highly toxic chemical created by Exxon in the wake of their own Valdez catastrophe. Corexit is damned as a nightmare non-solution by the film, but like so many of its claims, that censure comes via talking heads with the same opinion as that of the Tickells, thereby making dubious the material’s arguments about Corexit and many other alleged BP infractions. That BP is culpable for both the atrocious spill and the pitifully slow reaction to the crisis is undeniable. Yet by staking out only one side of the issue, The Big Fix inadvertently calls into question virtually every one of its contentions.
The Tickells’ style is a predictable grab bag of interviews with outraged experts and journalists, TV news footage, and scenes in which the filmmakers (and, during one trip, fellow activists Peter Fonda and Amy Smart) make faux-daring journeys into the fray to bring back supposed realities that corporate America seeks to hide. Along the way, the Tickells cast themselves as outlaw rebels determined to risk their safety for the greater good, as when Rebecca comes down with a strange skin irritations that she and her doctor assert may be from contact with Corexit, all while delivering patronizing statements like “This is a rigged game that most Americans don’t understand.”
The Big Fix eventually takes a detour into slamming U.S. campaign finance as the root cause of the Gulf of Mexico spill as well as most political evils, but while this thread makes logical sense, it temporarily hijacks the proceedings to the detriment of specific and legitimate criticisms of BP’s conduct. That lack of focus, however, is merely one of many shortcomings of this doc, which, when not reveling in bias, also finds a way to both make unsubstantiated insinuations about activist deaths (it was the oil companies!) and, after a reporter calls New Orleans political bigwigs “cheap hookers,” to provide a prolonged montage of sexualized Cinemax-worthy red-light-district imagery.