The Big Uneasy Review
by Bret Dorman
Hi, my name is Bret Dorman. I write an amateur movie review blog. I may not be too popular, my facebook ‘fanpage’ for CineMasters has a whopping 17 fans, 95% of whom are personal friends or family. The biggest influence I have had right now is getting my Mom to see Midnight in Paris. I know I am a small fish in this big pond. On the other hand, Harry Shearer, the famous actor from This is Spinal Tap, other Christopher Guest Mockumentaries, and the voice talent of several Simpsons characters, is a pretty big fish and using his popularity to actually try to achieve something.
There are two kinds of documentaries. The first kind, the kind I tend to like, are character driven ones. They aren’t about anything in particular but show us in detail one (or two) eccentric people. The second, the kind I tend to dislike, are documentaries that are about things. Usually political in some way, they are out to change the world and bring every single persons attention to one problem.
The Big Uneasy falls into that second category. What is it ‘about’? Its about Hurricane Katrina and the devastating affect it had on New Orleans. More specifically, how devastating the affect was…. because certain people and organizations were at fault for not taking the proper measures to prevent it.
Now I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I am this new advocate for New Orleans and rushing down to help ‘rebuild’, donating all my money or time, or trying to fight The Corps of Engineers (the ‘badguys’ of the movie’). To me, its kind of a lost cause, trying to get people riled up and super sympathetic for a problem so much so that they take action. There’s just too many problems in the world and if I took action for each one after every documentary I saw it would be a full time job with plenty of overtime. Only no pay.
But what I respect is a filmmmaker with a message and talent. Enter Harry Shearer. When asked after the movie “What do you hope to accomplish with this other than simply informing people and making them aware of the situation down in New Orleans?” Shearer responded with “I don’t think informing people and making them aware is a just. I think that’s very important.”
The Movie: The Big Uneasy is, and I mean it with no negative connotation, a heavy, factual film. A lot of it is explanation of what happened on a technical level and a lot of it talks very specifically about the legality of who is at blame and the ensuing circus of investigations and past and future protective construction projects.
But its nice to see a movie that doesn’t dumb it down. Everything is presented for you. Even the though to sit through stuff. One of the points made in the movie is something along the lines of ‘the more confusing you make your reports, the more its filled with mumbo jumbo, the bigger smoke screen you create to hide your blame. If you can create a smoke screen bigger than someone else’s… then you can point to them to say they are at blame’. This movie acts as if Shearer turned on a giant fan and completely blew away The Corps of Engineers massive smoke screen.
What surprised me the most was when Shearer said that this is common knowledge in New Orleans. Since the flood, it seems New Orleanians have taken a high interest in making sure it does not happen again. Understandable. But what doesn’t make sense, is that a story like this, would just be washed to the side for over news stories. Its as if ‘the media’ reported about the disaster and the ensuing troubles in getting relief down there, then a little bit on the reconstruction and levees, then just decided the story was ‘done’. It seems as if New Orleans was not only affected by the flood from the breaking of the levees, but by the constant flood of news items (both big and small) coming in every day that diluted this from important (ratings-getting) piece to simple follow up piece.
This movie isn’t without laughs. John Goodman appears for an over-the-top introductions to a segment called ‘ASk A New Orleanian’. And most of the humor comes from the way the movie shows just how ridiculous the Corps of Engineers is and how the system in effect allows them to monitor themselves and not take any of the blame.
Most importantly, from a filmmaking and story telling aspect, The Big Uneasy is not a sob piece. Its not a hallmark channel tear jerker that pulls on the usual heart strings in the usual paces. All that has been covered in full detail. This movie isn’t going to try to make you feel bad for the people of Katrina because the simple images of the flood can do that. This movie is about the hard work a few individuals put forth to fight a battle that had never been brought up before, holding The Corps of Engineers responsible for not only poor pre-planning but covering up their part in the disaster. This movie is about making the people responsible take that blame so they won’t make a mistake like this again. By the end of the movie, you won’t just be pissed about how (poorly) they covered up their involvement, but you’ll be pissed at how the people trying to do the right thing were treated.
We are all taught that if its the right thing to do, we should do it, even if we don’t get the recognition we deserve. And that’s true. But that recognition is also really nice and deserved. Shearer, with this film ,is trying to give them some of that recognition, so I, with this review and trying to give him some.
The Q&A: After the movie Shearer stuck around for a Q&A.
He’s a very humble guy and for every answer he had a sharp comment that got laughs, but never seemed gimmicky or forced. He’s got a natural, dry wit that comes through in this film.
One of the biggest things he said that relates to the movie was that “humans, good or bad, if we make a mistake and aren’t punished in some way for it, will keep making those mistakes again and again.”
The nicest thing on his part, was the Music Box Theatre invited everyone who saw The Big Uneasy to stick around for a showing of This is Spinal Tap, a separate showing with separate tickets and would bring in a whole different crowd. But Shearer stuck around to greet people and sign autographs… then introduce Spinal Tap and ended with “Rock on!” He may be out promoting a serious issue, but he’s not above giving a crowd full of fans a little goofy love as well.
In Conclusion, I’m not usually a big propagator of my political ideas and issues. I don’t get too involved in that stuff. So I’m not going to pretend like I am now instantly and emphatically devoted to every cause of the movie. But I am devoted to movies.
So Chicagoans, if you have any interest in this or know anyone who might, please share this. The movie is playing at The Music Box Theatre (3733 N. Southport Ave.) aand the showtimes for The Big Uneasy can be found here:
Chicago is a great city. There is no doubt about it. We take pride in being ‘The Second City’. Well Chicago, for this week, while Shearer’s documentary is in town, lets show our support and be ‘The Second City’ to New Orleans. Let’s give them the spotlight and the attention they deserve from the injustice that was done to them. This is a story that isn’t getting media attention like it should (as Shearer put it, ‘yes even from NPR’ which got a minor gasp from the crowd).
Besides… even in supporting New Orleans by seeing this movie… you’re still supporting Chicago because you’re seeing it in an independently run Chicago Movie Theater. And even more importantly, silly city pride aside… you’re supporting independent filmmaking.
So please, come on out, have a good time, and support three great causes all in one.