Film Review: ‘The Big Uneasy’ Unleashes Maddening Flood of Vital Information
CHICAGO – Some of the best documentaries are spawned directly from the raw outage of a filmmaker intent on sharing vital truths with the unenlightened public. Every frame is fraught with a sense of urgency that keeps viewers on the edge of their seat much like an engrossing popcorn thriller. Yet great passion alone does not make for great cinema.
“The Big Uneasy” is a rather unfortunate assemblage of excellent footage in need of a stronger editor, writer and director. The layers of muck raked in by this film are entirely convincing and deeply infuriating, but they have been thrust onto the screen in jarringly artless fashion by Harry Shearer, a wonderful actor and humorist whose heart is obviously in the right place. He admits in the film’s production notes that he made “Uneasy” in a short period of time in order for it to be completed by the fifth anniversary of the flood. A nice gesture, to be sure, but the film could’ve easily benefited from more post-production tweaks.
|Read Matt Fagerholm’s full review of “The Big Uneasy” in our reviews section.|
As it stands, the picture is an ungainly barrage of statistics, soundbites, diagrams and exhaustive analysis pertaining to the manmade cause of the New Orleans flood. Though various media outlets and government officials (including President Obama) declared Katrina’s path of destruction as a “natural disaster,” Shearer’s film sets out to prove that the historic tragedy could’ve been prevented if the US Army Corps of Engineers had done its job. By guiding the audience step-by-step through the human failings and design flaws that led to the disaster, Shearer does an effective job of building his case against the Army Corps, which is clearly more interested in rebuilding its image than fixing its mess. With better pacing and an assured sense of tone, Shearer could’ve knocked this film out of the park. But alas, “Uneasy” lives up to its name in more ways than one. The picture drags when it should be catching fire, lurching from one sequence to the next as if the filmmakers were merely flipping index cards. Rather than find a cinematic way to explain the backgrounds of various interview subjects, Shearer awkwardly cuts to a close-up of himself as he gets the viewer up to speed. Instead of melding its segments into a cohesive whole, the film consists of episodic segments that never truly gel. “Uneasy” plays more like a promising outline than a final cut.
Harry Shearer’s New Orleans doc The Big Uneasy is now available On Demand.
Photo credit: The Notions Dept.
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