Review: ‘Flint’ looks at the poisoning of a city

Tom Long
The Detroit News
Jill Scott, left, and Bay City native Betsy Brandt, right, play two of the women protesting toxic water in the Lifetime movie “Flint.”

There’s no question that the story of Flint’s poisoned water system needs to be told.

There’s no question that the story behind that poisoning reflects much of what is wrong with government today — protecting one’s turf at the expense of the electorate, outright lying, covering up malfeasance, squashing dissonant voices (sounds downright presidential, doesn’t it?).

So there’s no question that “Flint,” the Lifetime movie airing Saturday night, is a righteous exercise. It just could be a better righteous exercise.

Since Lifetime is all about women and empowerment (which is admirable), the focus here is on four semi-average women who become first enraged and then engaged when they find the city’s water supply threatening the health of Flint residents, and the authorities in charge denying there is any problem.

That problem? A governor-appointed official in charge of Flint’s dismal finances decides to save money by switching water sources to the polluted Flint River, and then somebody decides not to treat the water with chemicals that might make it safe. Throw in decaying water pipes and you get a host of health problems, chief among them lead poisoning.

The women — played by Bay City’s Betsy Brandt (“Breaking Bad”), Marin Ireland (“Sneaky Pete”), Jill Scott and (working separately) Queen Latifah — begin a grass-roots protest that takes up much of the film. Apparently none of them have ever seen a movie about such grievances because it’s a long, long time before anyone thinks of calling a lawyer or the press (at least according to the movie).

And that’s what weighs the film down. Instead of focusing on the efforts of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha (Sonia Dhillon Tully) who proved elevated levels in the blood of Flint’s kids, or Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards (Rob Morrow), who shows how polluted the water is, “Flint” instead follows the activist women who — while inspirational and key to the story — aren’t as dramatically focused.

There are other distractions. Queen Latifah’s daughter has a love story going on — is this the place for that? And Ireland’s character gets steamed at Brandt’s toward the end, but then suddenly they’re buddies in arms again. Huh?

Still, the basic tragedy of “Flint” resonates — government messes up, government covers up, people suffer. Unfortunately, the problems are far, far from resolved. Kudos to Lifetime for telling this story. It will be told again, hopefully better.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.



8 p.m. Saturday