Posted in Miscellany of (Relatively) Recent Important Films with tags on December 1, 2008 by tzaniello


60 mins.
TV Documentary
Director: Kenneth Lewis
Producers: New York Times and Discovery Channel

The geeky but jaunty know-it-all-ness of Thomas L. Friedman’s books (such as The World is Flat) comes through in this personal exploration of “geo-green alternatives” to the demon oil of our era. Although Friedman is not as bad as some–buying oil at all = terrorism–Friedman still waves the red flag of Islamo-terorism in our faces a little too often: “Petro-dollars,” Friedman states, “are now funding networks of Islamic militants.” Is that true?!

Nonetheless this is a short but very helpful march through the alternatives, in every instance a minor or major success story. Gas guzzlers like Hummers and even a new Ford pickup truck that looks aluminum-light, are the enemies because of their incredibly bad gas mileage (10 and 12 MPG, respectively). On the heroes’ list, auto-wise for the moment, are such cars as the Prius and the prototype of a car run by a hydrogen fuel cell. Which, of course, has no MPG because it doesn’t use oil. What it also does not have is an infrastructure of corner “gas” stations pumping hydrogen.

Friedman is bullish on hybrid cars, hydrogen as fuel, ethanol, and solar and wind power. In every instance he makes a good case and gamely does the equivalent of taking the alternative power source for a spin around the block. He even takes on the scientifically-supported economics of ethanol (that it takes more energy to produce ethanol than it saves) by instead bundling up some switch grass (“five or six foot high prairie grass”) for ethanol production because it has “more energy in it than corn.”

While any screen time given to Gary Bauer, President of American Values, an advocacy “think tank,” is too much, it may be helpful to hear occasionally what a right-winger contributes to the oil debate. “There are evil people,” Bauer intones, “feverishly working on ways to kill us. We are dependent on our energy resources to people that worship death and have drawn a bulls eye on our backs.”

The only thing scarier than peak oil, in my opinion, is the rhetoric of Gary Bauer that has me supporting Osama bin Laden every time I tank up. If only it were that simple.

Transcript/film clip of Thomas Friedman’s Addicted to Oil documentary
Jun 30, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)

YouTube: Addicted to Oil in six parts–


Further Reading:

Mink, Eric. “Drunk on Oil, and a Bad Hangover Looms.” New York Times, 24 June 2006. Finds the program a bit “sloppy” and inconsistent at times, but overall it offers its “principal themes” that only “the most rigid of ideologues” would contest; reviewer misses an effectives critique of corn as the only source of ethanol.


8 episodes, 2008
Director: Molly Mayock
Producers: National Geographic Channel and Original Productions

Los Angeles is the largest container port in the USA, exemplifying the enormous spread of the megalopolis along the channel.

The episodes are literally all over the place: in one (CSI on the Water), Port Police investigate the alleged rape of a mentally-retarded 21 year. When their crack investigator discovers childish drawings of the woman and her assailant together they conclude they don’t have a case. In another (Missing Man) longshoremen strut their stuff by offloading 4,000 containers from a single ship that had some wobbly engine problems.

The numbers racked up by the Port of Los Angeles are impressive: it has 43 miles of waterfront, 270 berths, and 76 cranes. Twenty-five of its cargo terminals can hold autos, clothing, toys, sporting goods, and electronic products, whose top suppliers in 2007 are, not surprisingly, China (with $119.9 billion) and Japan (with $40.4 billion). Its trade value in Californioa alone is $89.2 billion with an estimated impact on over a million jobs.

Two of the series stars have remarkably different jobs: Mike Rubino, the pilot captain who has to park the 90,000 ton vessels, and Geraldine Katz executive director of the port, who has to combat the fact that the port is “one of the dirtiest sources of contaminated air, carbon emissions anywhere in the region.” (according to the mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa.

In the meantime the series’ producers would do well to watch some science fiction films, since the adjoining Port of Long Beach was disrupted by an anthrax hoax during the filming.

YouTube: Excerpts from America’s Port :

Official Site (with video):

Further Reading:

Hale, Mike. “At the Port, Peril is Around Every Corner.” New York Times, 5 April 2008. Although the reviewer knows the jobs at the port of Los Angeles could be dangerous, it bothers him that nothing really scary happens in the season, unlike its sister production of Deadliest Catch (see Cinema of Globalization): he even blames the audience, “living the most comfortable lives this earth has ever afforded to nonroyalty” for a tendency to “festishize danger and risk.”

Labor and the Megalopolis

Posted in Miscellany of (Relatively) Recent Important Films with tags on October 7, 2008 by tzaniello



2008, 20 mins., USA

Director: Michael Zhao

Agit-Prop Documentary

Available at


            As one of the only industrialized countries in the world that has not ratified the Basel Convention on shipping hazardous waste to the Third World, the United States now exports 50 million computers, TVs, and cell phones to the Chinese “e-waste epicenter,” Guiyu, a leading importer of one million tons of e-waste a year.  It has surpassed its former rival, Taiwan, that is still attempting to treat its pollution years after the industry that once employed 60, 000 people was stopped by environmental regulations. At one point filmmaker Zhao pans the banks of the infamous Ernjen River in Taiwan, whose banks are still lined with discarded circuit boards.

             Guiyu in Guangdong Province, like most of China, has lax pollution controls. In  their haste to extract gold from the circuit boards and sell to sell other recycled components, local entrepreneurs employ thousands of workers who routinely absorb mercury, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants as they dismantle and burn the discarded electronic devices. This e-waste has conveniently filled up the shipping containers that had disgorged their millions of tons of imported Chinese retail goods in the USA.

              Zhao points out that Guiyu had been a “trash town for decades,” but the air is now choked with “burned plastics and baked circuitry,” as the residents pursue what only could be called a cottage industry of e-waste, with homes filled with electronic components. Zhao himself could sometimes spend only a couple of minutes at the workers’ side, so irritating were the fumes; the workers themselves got used to ten to twelve hours of day.


YouTube: (excerpt)


Other: “E-Waste: Dumping on the Poor,” an interview with Zhao:





Leonard, Andrew.

The Circuit Board Bakers of Guiyu., 7 Nov. 2007 ( Reviewer argues that “a lifetime of blog posts decrying the environmental toll of high-tech industrial production does not begin to approach the impact” of the film: “The images are extraordinary and unforgettable.”


Epidemic Cinema Databank: Title and Disease Vector

Posted in Miscellany of (Relatively) Recent Important Films on April 12, 2020 by tzaniello

            The ADS Epidemic (1987)—HIV/AIDS

            And the Band Played On (1993)—HIV/AIDS

            The Andromeda Strain (1971)—alien mutating crystalline “virus”

            The Andromeda Strain (2008)—alien mutating crystalline “virus”

            Arrowsmith (1931)–bubonic plague

            Black Death (1992)— bubonic plague

            Black Death (2010)— bubonic plague

            Blindness (2008)—unknown disease vector

            Body Snatchers: The Invasion Continues (1993)             

            The Cassandra Crossing (1976)—unspecified plague virus

            Children of Men (2006)—infertility virus

            The Citadel (1939)—TB: Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

            Contagion (2011)—mutating virus

            Containment (2016)—unknown virus

            Cooked: Survival by Zipcode (2019)—extremely high heat

            Corona (2020)–Covid-19

            Coronavirus Capitalism—And How to Beat It (2020)—Covid-19

            The Cured (2018)—fictitious Maze Virus

            The Day of the Dead (1985)—blood-based infection

            Deranged (2012)—mutant parasitic horsehaire worms

            District 9 (2009)—alien spaceship fuel

            Dr. Bull (1933)—typhus and unknown paralytic vector

            Dr. Erhlich’s Magic Bullet (1940)—syphilis

            11th Hour (2006/2008)—hybrid smallpox-tanapox virus

            The Faculty (1998)—larval parasites

            Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America (2006)—avian virus H5N1

            Fields of Gold (2002)—transgenic bacteria (Vancomycin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus)

            The Final Inch (2009)—polio virus.

            Flu (2013)—H5N1 virus

            The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)—fungal infection

            The Hot Zone (1994)—ebola virus

            The Hot Zone (2019)—ebola virus

            How to Survive a Plague (2012)—polio virus

            Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria (2013)–bacteria

            I Am Legend 2007)—mutated measles virus

            Infection (2005)—mental telepathy and/or green blood

            Intimate Contact (1987)—HIV/AIDS

            Interrupted Melody (1955)—polio virus

            The Invasion (2007)—alien seeds

            Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1971; 1978)—alien seed pods

            It Stains the Sands Red (2016—unknown zombie vector

            La Jetee or The Observation Deck (1962)—unknown virus

           Jezebel (1938)—yellow fever flavivirus

           The Killer that Stalked New York (1950): smallpox

           Land of the Dead  (2005)—blood-based infection

          The Last Days (2013)—agoraphobic vector

          The Last Man on Earth (1964)—bacterial vampire plague

          Life After People (2008)—no vectors

          Lifeforce (1985)–alien kiss

         The Leakers (2018)–Zika virus

         Longtime Companion (1990)—HIV/AIDS

         The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988)–Black Plague

          No Sad Songs for Me (1950)–cancer

          The Omega Man (1971)—albino-genic mutant virus

          Outbreak (1998)—fictional Motuba virus

          Outbreak: Anatomy of a Plague (2010): smallpox virus (Red Plague)

          The Painted Veil (1934)–cholera bacteria

          The Painted Veil (2006)—cholera bacteria                                                

           Pandemic (2007)—plague virus

           Pandemic (2009)—plague virus

           Pandemic (2016)—plague virus

           Pandemic (2020)—plague virus

           Panic in the Streets (1950)—bacteria (pneumonic plague)

           A Paralyzing Fear: The Story of Polio in America (1998): polio virus

           Perfect Sense—fictional SOS (Sensory Olfactory Syndrome) virus

           Phase IV (1974)—mutating gene in ants

           The Plague (1979)—fictional bacterium M3: The Gemini Strain

           The Polio Crusade (2009)—polio virus

           Pontypool (2008)—spoken English words

           Rain (2011)—unknown intelligent virus

          Sea Fever (2020)—marine parasites

          The Seventh Seal (1957)—virus (bubonic plague)

           The Seventh Sin (1957)–cholera bacteria

            Shaun of the Dead (2004)—unknown zombie vector

            Shivers (1975)—fecal parasites

            Smallpox (2002)— smallpox virus

            The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936)— Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) and Rabies                                     (Rabies lyssavirus)



            Sweet as You Are (1988)—HIV/AIDS

            Train to Busan (2016)—unknown zombie vector

            12 Monkeys (1995)—unknown virus

            28 Days Later (2002)—fictional “rage” virus

            28 Weeks Later (2007)—fictional “rage” virus

           Under the Skin—alien kiss

           Virus (1980)—fictional virus MM88

           Virus (1995)—plague

           Virus (1999)—alien virus

            Virus (2019)–Nipah virus

            Warm Bodies (2013)—zombie bite

            We Heard the Bells: The Influenza of 1918 (2010)–virus

            World War Z (2013)—zombie sound-sensitive virus

New Post on Hitchcock

Posted in Miscellany of (Relatively) Recent Important Films on January 15, 2020 by tzaniello

The Precariat in the Fields: Food Chains (2014)

Posted in Miscellany of (Relatively) Recent Important Films on January 24, 2015 by tzaniello

Every generation, it seems, must revisit the fields where migrant labor tolls to keep fresh strawberries and tomatoes on our tables. Edward R. Murrow is usually credited with the first expose of the “forgotten people,” as Murrow referred to them in his legendary television documentary in 1960, The Harvest of Shame. Murrow begins with footage of the almost exclusively black field workers boarding trucks to take them to the tomato fields in Immokalee, Florida. He quotes one farm owner: “We used to own our slaves. Now we just rent them.”


In our generation this same task falls to director Sanjay Rawal whose 2014 documentary Food Chains begins, like Murrow, in Immokalee, following workers almost exclusively Latino on the busses to take them to the tomato fields, arriving for shape-up at 8 AM and returning home usually about 8 PM, having earned only $42. One of the workers says: “we live like animals in cramped houses,” often packing fifteen to sixteen people in a trailer during picking season.


But Rawal has a new topic besides the grim recitation of facts and expression of outrage characteristic of Murrow. The workers have formed the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) who struggle on a number of fronts to double the income of the tomato pickers by asking the big three consumers—fast food restaurant, food services, and supermarkets to simply double the single penny earned for every tomato picked. This will have the effect, of course, of doubling the wages of the workers.


The film traces informational leafleting, marches, pickets, and even a major hunger strike as the strategic efforts of the CIW to move public opinion and embarrass the big three food consumers. In the end only company, the food chain Publix, refuses to support what came to be called the agreement called the Fair Food Program. Publix, the largest food chain and actually one of the richest corporations in any business, of course refuses to comment on camera.


Rawal’s film uses historical footage with great skill and effect. As I have mentioned, he uses some of the shots from The Harvest of Shame, but he also includes telling footage from Ethel and Bobby Kennedy’s visits to Cesar Chavez’s own hunger strike in 1968. Rawal films Ethel Kennedy and Robert Kennedy Junior as they visit the hunger strike of the CIW in 2013.


By my count Murrow’s film engendered at least three major broadcast TV specials on migrant workers within ten years of his CBS Reports film. But it took another thirty years when three more documentaries re-visited Murrow’s films and reported disappointedly , as in New Harvest, Old Shame (Frontline, 1990) “little has changed” for the now Latino migrant workers who travel from Florida to New Jersey for their picking opportunities.


So Rawal might not have the last word on the trials and tribulations of the migrant workers he films so respectfully, but it is at the very least a compelling and convincing word at this point, fifty-five years after his documentary mentor, Edward R. Murrow, filmed the migrant workers in the same town.

The Precariat: Two Cycles of Migrant Worker Documentaries—A Brief Guide

Posted in Miscellany of (Relatively) Recent Important Films on January 24, 2015 by tzaniello

Working people, their unions, labor issues in general, and political movements involving the working class have always been a part of Hollywood, independent, and foreign filmmaking. These films dramatize or document working people, labor activism, labor history, and related economic, political, and sociological issues.

The films have, however, resisted genre analysis because, first of all, they cross genre boundaries and, secondly, independent filmmakers have produced many labor documentaries that do lend themselves to genre study. Many of them, however, generated some distinctive film cycles. Here I want to focus on two cycles, one of the 1960s, the other 1990s, all of the films focusing on migrant labor.

The film that launched a film cycle of three major 1960s television documentaries about the hidden plight of migrant workers in the 1960s was one of the most influential investigative journalistic exposes of all time–Edward R. Murrow’s Harvest of Shame (1960). Murrow covered virtually every issue of importance to the mainly white migrant workers, although he even included the then relatively little-known bracero program, whereby the growers could import Mexican workers (who remained Mexican citizens) and pay them even less than the pitiful wages they were paying American workers.

Harvest of Shame is in part famous because it was not typical of TV reporting in a conformist era. Murrow was unusually forthright on political issues. Murrow’s juxtaposition of cattle trucks with strict safety rules and mistreated migrant laborers in rickety trucks is a famous example of his no-holds-barred style.

The TV documentaries that followed Murrow’s lead also use a strong voice-over narrator by a star or celebrity reporter (who may even be in the shots) and were always on the edge of muck-raking rather than simple reporting. By the end of the decade, however, exploited labor knew no color:

What Harvest for the Reaper? (1968), shown on NET [National Educational Television] Journal, focuses on just one of Murrow’s targets, a labor camp in Cutchogue, Long Island, that “would make slave life on the old Dixie plantation appear attractive” (Variety).

Hunger in America (1968), shown on CBS Reports, sent Charles Kuralt and others to focus on poverty among Mexican-Americans, Navajos, southern blacks, and white Virginia tenant farmers, the latter occupying the estates of Senator Everett Dirksen and the popular TV entertainer Arthur Godfrey.

Migrant (1970), shown on NBC, sent Chet Huntley out in the field to document how Coca-Cola and its subsidiaries (Snowcrop, Hi C, Minute Maid, and Tropicana) exploit Florida farm workers; Variety noted that the show’s sponsor, Coca-Cola, tried to “kill the exposé,” which was shown, in the end, without a single commercial.

A second film cycle was also generated by Murrow’s Harvest of Shame, even if thirty years had passed. In fact one of them, Hector Galan’s New Harvest, Old Shame (Frontline, 1990), demonstrates that “little has changed” for the now Latino migrant workers who travel from Florida to New Jersey for their picking opportunities.

Five years later, Dan Rather’s Legacy of Shame emphasized that laws were finally in place to protect migrant workers but “now the problem isn’t the laws, it’s their enforcement.” Rather chronicles both the highs—the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and the lows—crew leaders and owners virtually treating their workers like indentured servants.

The subject of Children of the Harvest (1998), a NBC Dateline film, is obvious—gross violations of the law in regards to child labor, although the filmmaker has some sympathy for the families who feel they must send their children out to work in order for all of them to survive. The film ends with one farmer, disciplined by Heinz for using child labor, predicting that when children are kept out of the fields, Heinz will go out of the pickle business.

Although certain films from these three cycles have substantial reputations, most of the other films are not well-known and are sometimes seen as one-off or maverick productions. Keeping such films isolated from the cycles they are developed in obscures important relationships that have escaped film historians on occasion.

P.S. The last three documentaries, New Harvest Old Shame, Legacy of Shame, and Children of the Harvest, all have extensive discussions in my book, Working Stiffs, Union Maids, Reds and Riffraff: An Expanded Guide to Films about Labor (Cornell University Press).

I Witness (2003): The Precariat as the Threatened Class

Posted in Miscellany of (Relatively) Recent Important Films with tags on January 7, 2015 by tzaniello

Although perhaps no more brutal than the numerous films about the murders of “illegal aliens” slipping across the Mexican border to the USA or Mexican women kidnapped off the streets of Tijuana, I Witness (directed by Rowdy Herrington) has an even more generous range of corrupt and duped individuals than these other films.

The setting is an American-owned maquiladora undergoing a unionization drive. The company certainly doesn’t want the union, the local bent cops don’t want the union, and even American officials and middlemen don’t want the union, but at least for them it’s because it will cause too much trouble and maybe not even help the workers in the end.

Into this thicket of thieves and connivers strides James Rhodes, a human rights observer played by Jeff Bridges, who has been demoted because he duked a reporter complaining about the poor food at a Sudanese hotel during a famine.

Two sets of murders remain unsolved during this union struggle: two American boys shot while dirt-biking just across the border in Mexico and an entire village of compesinos—men, women, and children—found slaughtered in a collapsed tunnel. Viewers suspect how the two sets of murders are related almost before the protagonists but suffice it to say that the villagers were recruited to clean up a midnight spill of deadly methyl dioxide at the maquiladora, whose poisonous effects on them make them dangerous witnesses to the company’s reputation.

Jeff Bridges’ character does have some allies—an unbent cop who is nonetheless suspicious of gringo do-gooders, a local saintly priest, and an American bureaucrat Bridges would have had a romance with if this weren’t such a depressing film.

One wants not to be depressed in the end despite the number of deaths of innocent people including our heroes and the arrest of a really bent cop, but the web of shifting allegiances among the tough guys in this community, including even a mythical drug lord who is supposedly responsible for all bad things happening but who doesn’t really exist, makes the film’s coda especially difficult to take.

Nonetheless in the cinema of globalization this film should occupy a special but difficult place. The workers at the factory as well as the villagers epitomize the global labor force we now call the precariat, using the term popularized by British economist and writer Guy Standing, made up of temp workers seasonal workers, service industry workers, day laborers, immigrant and migrant workers, convict labor, the unorganized, the unemployed, the undocumented, etc.

That this labor force is global and threatened in even First World countries is the subject of what may be the only current play specifically named for the phenomenon—Chris Dunkley’s The Precariat (2013), performed in London. Macdonald workers as well the neighborhood drug sales force are all at risk in this drama of a dysfunctional working-class family that can only make ends meet by selling drugs or stealing.

Tienanmen’s 20th Anniversary–“The Tank Man”

Posted in Miscellany of (Relatively) Recent Important Films with tags , on June 5, 2009 by tzaniello

Although it was first shown three years ago, the single-best introduction and analysis of the Tienanmen events of 1989 remains Frontline’s “Tank Man.” This is my entry on the film from THE CINEMA OF GLOBALIZATION:

The Tank Man

Frontline makes an extraordinary claim in its documentary about “the tank man,” the Beijing man who stepped out in front of the Red Army’s tanks as they rolled in to Tienanmen Square in 1989 to crush the New Democracy movement that was sweeping the nation and whose photograph (and video footage of his courageous and foolhardy act) became an inspiration for many people to resist oppression in other countries. He disappeared after his moment of fame, but because he symbolized the resistance to state control, Frontline argues that in effect the entrenched Chinese leadership made an implicit deal with its own people: we will give you economic freedom but not political freedom. That is: there will be a Starbucks on the corner but you cannot use the Internet without censorship.

Frontline demonstrates how, in just seventeen years, this strange pact with the devil seems to have come true. China’s economy is booming, people in Beijing now have incomes and consumer goods that were dreams in 1989, and capitalism at the top is thriving. At the bottom millions of rural folk have been displaced, desperate for jobs in the new industrial economy, and treated like second class citizens. Many Beijingers nevertheless remember how their fellow citizens were murdered by the Red Army the day before Tank Man made his move. Some wonder if the cost of globalization for China’s economy has been too high.

Of course footage of such an event today would be routine and even captured by cell phones and web and pod cast around the world in seconds. In 1989 capturing this moment before widespread digitalization was lucky: one Western photographer hid his roll of film in his hotel toilet bowl tank because he knew the security people had spotted him photographing Tank Man from his balcony. (This is the most often reproduced Associated Press photo by Jeff Widener at Live footage of Tank Man moving about to block the tank and even climbing aboard to converse with the driver is compelling viewing. To my eye the people rushing to lead him away were sympathetic fellow protestors, not security men, but others think he was arrested and murdered.

One man and one tank carry a big message for Frontline but their evidence of a globalized China launched in part because of political oppression is nonetheless convincing. In one sense the students and others who demonstrated for continued economic reforms and political liberalization ended up with half of the loaf but at a very great cost.


Martel, Ned. “Mystery of One Man’s Act of Defiance on One Day in Beijing.” New York Times, 11 April 2006. Although the reviewer is also captivated by the mystery of Tank Man’s disappearance, he finds some of the documentary “rambling” and over-ambitious in its scope: the film “reintroduces a frustratingly faceless enigma and teases a viewer with the hope of a resolution that never arrives.”

Wong, Jan. Red China Blues. New York: Doubleday, 1996. Memoir, subtitled “My Long March from Mao to Now,” by a Canadian of Chinese origin, who went from a pure red Maoist during the Cultural Revolution to a horrified participant in the Tiananmen Square events.

Zhang Liang, Andrew J. Nathan, and Perry Link, ed. The Tiananmen Papers, The Chinese Leadership’s Decision to Use Force Against their Own People—In their Own Words. New York: Public Affairs Press, 2001. Volume documents how both hardliners and reformers at the top levels of the Chinese Communist Party debated the fate of the student protests on the New Democracy movement; in the end it is economic reformer Den Xiaopeng who gets the credit for approving the military attack on the square.

State of Play

Posted in Miscellany of (Relatively) Recent Important Films with tags on April 6, 2009 by tzaniello

The “New York Times” announced on April 6, 2009, that a new two-hour feature film, a re-make of the six-episdoe BBC serial by the same title will soon be released. And although it will star Helen Mirren, the Queen of British Sophisticated Serials, I thought it helpful to post my entry on the original series (as it appeared in “The Cinema of Globalization):

“State of Play”

2003, 342 mins., UK, TV Series (6 episodes).
Director: David Yates
Screenplay: Paul Abbott

Combining investigative journalism with a political fix by an oil company makes “State of Play” exciting viewing, with an added bonus of an attractive newsroom team and a crusty chief editor. The mysterious deaths with which the series begins–a young woman working for a British MP goes under a Tube train and a young black man is gunned down on the street in broad daylight–establish an anxious rhythm that each episode sustains.
It also provides a counterpoint between very emotional and scary sequences with sardonic and occasionally sick humor. It turns out that the MP was on the very Tube train that killed the young woman (did she fall? was she pushed?) and that he was having an affair with her. Anyone who has ever been in a crowded subway car stopped for “unforeseen circumstances,” according to the conductor over the p.a. system, will get guilty pleasure from this sequence because the conductor cannot resist gossiping: “Well, there’s a body on the line at Green Park.” And the passengers (including the MP) groan.
The MP in question, Stephen Collins (played by David Morrissey) is heading up a parliamentary Energy Select Committee in the midst of an inquiry into the oil industry; when he hears of his assistant’s death, he breaks down in public and begins a roller-coaster ride that ends his marriage and puts his old campaign manager, Cal McCaffrey (played by John Simm), now an investigative reporter for the independently minded major newspaper, on the case. It will come as no surprise to viewers of political thrillers not to mention readers of the news that a fix must be in.
This political thriller is not only a mystery–the two deaths in the first few minutes of the first episode are obviously related–but a condemnation of the ways of secret government business-as-usual and like “A Very British Coup” (q.v.), which it resembles in many ways, the primary enemy is the upper-crust establishment types that dominate the government regardless of the political stripe of the party in power. In this film it is New Labour, mocked by Cal at one point for its Millennium Dome fiasco (see “MM”), while in “A Very British Coup,” the Tories don’t like being upstaged by the old Labour Party especially with a union leader as prime minister.
The politics of oil and brilliant newsroom performances by a cast, especially Cal’s workmate Della Smith (played by Kelly Macdonald) and boss Cameron Foster (Bill Nighy), make this a must-see; globalization may have found its genre after all–the petro-thriller (see “Syriana”).

Goodman, Tim. “Two Reasons You Shouldn’t Watch Sopranos on Sunday Nights.” “San Francisco Chronicle,” 16 April 2004. Says that the film “gives credence to the idea that there may not be any better format for telling an impact story than over the course of four to six hours.”