Movie Review: The Big Uneasy (2010)

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As natural as they are in their purest form, hurricanes – like earthquakes and tsunamis -- lead to disaster. However, as Harry Shearer informs us in The Big Uneasy, there was absolutely nothing natural about the disastrous way that Hurricane Katrina nearly drowned the entire city of New Orleans, Louisiana back in 2005.

When the levees broke, all hell broke loose and hell hath no fury like Mother Nature scorned by human nature.

With the benefit of heavily researched Uneasy hindsight we discover that those responsible for designing and building the levees had the scientific engineering foresight to anticipate a future catastrophic failure long before their levees met the deadly, destructive Katrina, making the ultimate disaster man-made and far from natural.

Christopher Guest mockumentary MVP ensemble actor turned documentary filmmaker Harry Shearer makes an aptly titled Uneasy nonfiction directorial debut with his extremely informative but extremely laborious academic indictment of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Going against the government’s opinion that the event was an Act of God, Shearer along with his cast of professional, professorial and/or PhD talking heads cite from the gospel of scholarly fact, chronicling the levee failure as an Act of the Army Corps of Engineers who have and continue to move in mysterious and highly suspicious ways.

In doing so, The Big Uneasy outlines everything that went wrong, which in the case of the Corps involved ignoring a decades-old study that warned the engineers to proactively address levee weaknesses –thereby potentially solving a problem like Katrina before it even existed – as well as post-hurricane acts of intimidation to cover-up the organization’s epic level of incompetence.

Yet as undeniably important as it is to document the truth, those onscreen do it so effectively well that Shearer could’ve (and should’ve) brought his doc to a close nearly an hour before the final credits roll since even when you’re talking about the Big Easy, Big’s impact would’ve been much stronger in a shorter, more focused, little presentation of Uneasy truths.

So poorly constructed and dully executed that it makes Al Gore’s PowerPoint presentation Inconvenient Truth look like an action-packed popcorn movie by comparison, Shearer undercuts the impact his vital documentary might’ve had by beating us over the head with far too many long drawn out interviewee accounts that make the same points multiple times with dry yawn-inducing repetition.

Further intercutting the montages of vital yet unrelatable technical jargon filled science geek-speak lectured straight to the camera from the mouths of engineers to storm survivors in tonally and narratively out-of-place commercial sized breaks where New Orleans residents answer idiotic, stereotypical and pedantic faux questions, The Big Uneasy moves from one end of the intellectual spectrum to the other.

Inspiring viewers to fight a battle against boredom and increasingly blinking eyes – although I willed myself to remain awake from start to finish, my news junkie friend was amazingly and rather quickly sent off to dreamland within the first fifteen minutes alone.

An upsettingly disastrous man-made account of the man-made (and nature-blamed) disaster that should’ve been naturally riveting, Uneasy represents an admirable but lifeless attempt to use cinematic justice, the pulpit of pop culture and the court of public opinion to hold the Corps accountable for breaching New Orleanian trust the way they claimed the levies had been breached.

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 FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.