Fredrik Gertten’s film about the health and working conditions of Nicaraguan banana-plantation workers and a related court case is certainly well-intentioned, but its by-the-numbers narrative structure and distinctive made-for-TV feel render it less effective and less involving than it should be, at least for a theatrically released documentary. While Bananas!* as a whole is interesting enough, it is also rather unsatisfying because it raises several issues that are not properly addressed.
The strongest aspect of this documentary also constitutes its emotional core: the personal stories, particularly the account given by Byron Rosales Romero, a young man whose deceased father, Alberto Rosales, was a banana-plantation worker. A couple of scenes are unnecessarily and manipulatively repeated more than once. The sequence that shows Juan Dominguez, the lawyer representing the banana workers, taking his—no doubt very expensive—Ferrari for a drive may seem out of place at first, but it goes to show that Dominguez does not exactly live a simple, frugal life.
Despite the legal controversy surrounding it, the film does not seem terribly or annoyingly one-sided. Even though the filmmakers clearly present the case from the point of view of the banana workers, Dole and its lawyers do not come across as the bad guys to the extent that one would expect.