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Review: 'The Big Uneasy'

May 20, 2011|By Gary Goldstein
  • Harry Shearer is seen in his new documentary, "The Big Uneasy," about flooding in New Orleans.
Harry Shearer is seen in his new documentary, "The Big Uneasy,"… (The Notions Department )

The cleverly titled documentary "The Big Uneasy" is a highly informative but, frankly, dull dissection of why, as writer-director Harry Shearer credibly posits, the floods that devastated New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina were not caused by a natural disaster but one that was uniquely man-made.

This data-dense film is structured largely around dry testimony from two scientific investigators — UC Berkeley's Robert Bea and hurricane expert Ivor Van Heerden — along with Maria Garzino, a whistleblower from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' L.A. district. But it's the Corps' New Orleans division that takes the heat for the failure of the city's levees, with analysis blaming constructional, political and judgmental blunders dating back to the 1950s.

Shearer, best known as a comedic actor-writer and satirist, proves such a surprisingly stodgy presence here — behind and in front of the camera — it's as if he feared any vibrancy might offend the still-beleaguered city he considers his adopted home. When Shearer does try to lighten the load with a bit called "Ask a New Orleanian," hosted by John Goodman, the attempt falls flat. Much of the interview editing is also disconcertingly jumpy.

Less talk and more action — plus a stronger visual sense of the city and its culture (that's saved mostly for the end credits) — would have better served this well-meaning effort.

— Gary Goldstein

"The Big Uneasy." No MPAA Rating. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

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