Review: ‘Pump’ is too perfect

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America’s obsession with oil is on tap in Pump, the latest film by husband-wife documentarian duo Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell. Their previous film, Fuel, Freedom and The Big Fix, also focused on the hazards of America’s oil dependence, so it’s no surprise that Pump – which premiered in the D.C. area Oct. 6 – tackles the issue head on, with the goal of advocating for alternative fuel solutions.

Narrated by Arrested Development’s Jason Bateman, the film, which is co-presented by the Fuel Freedom Foundation, begins by looking at the ways America’s dependence on Middle East oil can harm consumers, and the relationship between financial markets and ever-changing oil prices. It also presents a mini-history lesson, highlighting America’s oil addiction’s corporate starting point, stating that oil aristocrat John Rockefeller helped pass Prohibition to prevent Henry Ford from making alcohol-fueled cars.


Pump portrays the United States as extremely reliant on oil from other countries – this country accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes more than 20 percent of its oil. Also mentioned is the controversial technology of fracking, the process of extracting oil trapped in dense shale rock at a high environmental cost.

Intertwined with fast-paced B-roll, archival footage and showy cinematography, the film presents interviews and testimonials from a staggering number of sources who give their insight on the country’s oil dependence, most notably from John Hofmeister, the founder of Citizens for Affordable Energy and the former president of Shell Oil. Jewish sources who give their testimony include Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director of energy and sustainability at University of California-Davis, and investigative reporter and best-selling author Edwin Black, who gives his insight on corporate crimes committed by Standard Oil and General Motors to enforce oil-consuming modes of transportation.

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Only 90 minutes long, the film’s biggest flaw is that it crams too much information and too many interviews from too many sources for the average viewer to digest. The film switches from source to source and topic to topic at lightning speed. There’s a small bit that highlights Brazil’s success story in regards to the country’s ethanol production, and how it has broken free from the oil monopoly at the gas pumps, with commentary from Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

But by the time the film is over, this and other seemingly important, minutes-long presentations can seem like far-off memories. The most interesting segment is about China’s booming interest in cars, and the inevitable increase of international oil demand. The focal point is a fascinating story of a Chinese mother, who competes with more than 20,000 people just to bid for a license plate online.


The film’s second act turns into a long advertisement, advocating for a short-term solution – alternative fuel options including Flex-fuel vehicles and different biofuels – and the long-term solution of the electric car. Elon Musk predictably makes an appearance to promote his Teslas, and the film ends with a cliche montage of everyday Americans showing their support for alternative fuel. It all seems too perfect – as does one of the final lines by Bateman: “The choice for a better future begins at the pump.” This being said, Pump’s target audience – eco-friendly liberals and the fiscally conservative – is sure to find this documentary satisfying.

Pump is rated PG, and plays at West End Cinema in D.C. and AMC Hoffman Center 22 in Alexandria through today.

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