It may seem a bit unfair to split hairs about any movie made under the pressures, constraints and fatigue that director Alison Thompson and producer Oscar Gubernati experienced during their 19 weeks shooting "The Third Wave." After all, this benevolent couple, who were serving as independent aid volunteers in Sri Lanka after a 2004 tsunami devastated the impoverished country, had more urgent concerns at hand than crafting a polished cinematic record of their heroic efforts. Nonetheless, they went the film route, and the result is more respectable than riveting, more video diary than full-fledged documentary.
Thompson and Gubernati (New Yorkers by way of, respectively, Australia and Italy), along with fellow volunteers Donny Paterson and Bruce French, struggled without any initial outside assistance or funding to resuscitate Peraliya, a tribal fishing town where the megastorm's 40-foot waves derailed a passenger train, and where more than 2,500 travelers and locals were killed. The volunteers helped rebuild homes, provided health and medical services (Thompson has a nursing background, plus several doctors later joined the cause) and assisted with the educational needs of the area's many children.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, September 24, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
"The Third Wave": A review of the movie "The Third Wave" in Wednesday's Calendar said the December 2004 tsunami that hit Sri Lanka, Indonesia and other Asian countries was caused by a large storm. The tsunami was the result of an earthquake centered in the Indian Ocean.
Though we witness the volunteers' gritty, painstaking work and can chart the town's slow progress, we never really come to know any of the villagers, with just slightly more revealed about the filmmakers and their co-humanitarians. Only when exhaustion bests the brash, big-hearted Paterson or when Thompson runs afoul of villagers suspicious of how she's dispensing donation money do we ever get particularly close.
In the end, less focus on the volunteers' day-to-day efforts and more time framing the tsunami's effects within a larger world view might have better fleshed out and invigorated "The Third Wave." Still, the film, which is "presented" by Sean Penn, stands as a powerful testament to people like Thompson and Gubernati, whose selfless devotion to helping others is rare indeed.
'The Third Wave'
MPAA rating: Unrated
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Language: In English, Sinhalese and Tamil with English subtitles
Playing: At Laemmle's Grande 4-Plex, downtown Los Angeles