“The Grab”


Metacritic (6/10), Letterboxd (3/5), Imdb.com (6/10), TMDB.com (6/10)

Sometimes a story is so big and involved that it’s difficult to get a handle on it. That can be quite a challenge for even the most adept documentarians and investigative reporters, no matter how eager or adept they may be in taking on such an ambitious project. And that, unfortunately, is the case with the latest offering from director Gabriela Cowperthwaite in her eight-year-long collaboration with journalist Nathan Halverson of The Center for Investigative Reporting. In essence, the film seeks to identify and characterize the new flashpoints underlying emerging geopolitical conflicts. Just as those in recent years have been driven by the compulsion to secure valuable energy supplies, today’s budding battlegrounds are once again tied to acquiring access to precious resources – in this case, food and water, along with the aquifers, agricultural land and processing facilities needed to yield these commodities. Evidence of the desperate, growing need for obtaining these materials has already begun to surface – albeit not always overtly – in such incidents as the Arab Spring and even the War in Ukraine. And, because of this developing crisis, those interested in locking down these resources have started scrambling to acquire them, primarily clandestinely, in regions where they’re most plentiful. These efforts have been spearheaded by multinational corporations and global financial institutions in cooperation with countries that are experiencing, or have historically experienced, critical food and water shortages, such as China, Russia, Venezuela and the nations of the Middle East. And, to help ensure the success of these ventures, they have enlisted the support of mercenary muscle to achieve their goals. High-profile targets, primarily in Africa and even parts of the US, have come under growing scrutiny, unscrupulously grabbed from their rightful owners and leaving them destitute as a result. Needless to say, this is an incredibly complicated story, one that’s difficult to tell, and, regrettably, that’s somewhat apparent in the finished product. While the work of Cowperthwaite and Halverson is undoubtedly sincere, having brought a great deal of previously buried information to light, it’s nearly impossible to relate this complex narrative in a concise and coherent manner. Given the many story threads involved and the well-camouflaged structures that have been set up to keep the truth and its principal participants concealed, it’s a genuine challenge to intelligibly expose the overarching nature of this highly convoluted big picture. Some elements are thus underdeveloped or left incomplete, making this film an often-frustrating watch. That’s unfortunate considering the importance of this story, one that has been largely flying below the radar and certainly deserves to be more widely exposed and detailed. With that said, though, “The Grab” represents a valuable start, and one can only hope there will be more releases like this that manage to dig deeper and discover more. It’s also heartening that the picture addresses some of the victories that have come about in combatting this issue, particularly those that have benefitted Africans who have been subjected to what is essentially a new form of continental colonization. In an age where increasing social and political volatility is arising due to a failure to effectively address the world’s hunger, it’s essential that we become aware of this issue before it gets out of hand and leads us down a path we don’t dare pursue.