The Big Uneasy: Film Review

A sobering if uncharacteristically dry investigative documentary from the usually more caustic Shearer.

While Harry Shearer makes an impassioned directorial debut, his doc about the flooding of New Orleans plays out like a data-heavy, extended investigative report.


He may have a reputation for acerbic satire, but Harry Shearer's tongue remains clear of his cheek in The Big Uneasy, a damning documentary that points an accusatory finger at those Shearer contends are responsible for the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans in the wake of Katrina.

While Shearer admittedly makes an impassioned directorial debut, the film plays out like a data-heavy, extended investigative report with an academic emphasis on scientific findings over portraits of human suffering.

Those who might have been expecting an edgier or more irreverent approach from the guy who played the bass player in Spinal Tap and provided the voice of several beloved Simpsons characters will likely be initially taken aback by the solemnity of this undertaking.

And, truth be told, a less traditional methodology would have made all those facts and figures somewhat easier to digest.

As a New Orleans resident, Shearer comes by his indignation honestly in his search for hard answers surrounding that tremendous 2005 devastation.

But when it comes to naming culprits in what he deems a not-so-natural disaster that caused those levees to fail, his prime target is not FEMA but the historically entrenched Army Corps of Engineers, with an assembled team of investigators and experts relating disturbing post-Katrina findings.

In addition to the accusations of cover-ups involving corrupt contractors and faulty engineering, Shearer's gathered talking heads also reveal some inconvenient truths regarding the coastal erosions that are eating away at the once abundant New Orleans swamplands.

Although he makes a convincing case, the filmed presentation lacks the artistic courage of those convictions.

Perhaps sensing that viewers could use a bit of a distraction from all the data-overload, Shearer throws in a few segments hosted by fellow New Orleans neighbor John Goodman, titled, "Ask a New Orleanian," but the glib tone ends up feeling more gratuitous than inspired.

Aside from his own, low-key on-camera narration, Shearer also enlists off-camera assistance from the voice talents of Brad Pitt, Jennifer Coolidge, Wendell Pierce and Will Lyman.


Opens: Friday, May 20 (Screenvision Programming Services)
Production companies: The Notions Dept.
With: Harry Shearer, John Goodman
Director-screenwriter: Harry Shearer
Producers: Karen Murphy, Christine O'Malley
Director of photography: Arlene Nelson
Music: David Torkanowsky
Editor: Tom Roche
No MPAA rating, 98 minutes.

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