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When the Levees Broke (2006)

September 17, 2009

10/10 Required Viewings

Doesn’t matter if you were too young to remember Hurricane Katrina, too far-removed to have it hit close to home, or were right there in the thick of things, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie, especially if you’re an American.

When The Levees Broke is documentary about the city of New Orleans, its citizens, and the utter destruction of them both as a result of Hurricane Katrina and the American government’s lack of preparation, response, and overall reaction to what was arguably the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history.

This was shown as a four-hour event on HBO back in 2006, and if you’re like me and can’t afford HBO, there’s a good chance you might have missed this one. Even more reason to go seek it out, it’s worth every minute you put into it.

It’s directed by Spike Lee, and in this case, that’s a very good thing. Anyone who’s ever seen a Spike Lee joint knows that his movies are aimed to open your eyes, make you angry, and pose a lot of hard questions without giving you easy answers. Considering the subject material at hand, this is exactly the kind of person who should be in charge of shedding light on one of the most horrendous and shameful periods in American history that was in part fostered by race and social class differences amongst the powerfully wealthy in Washington and the victimized poor in Louisiana. It’s not like Mookie and the garbage can at the end of Do the Right Thing, but damn will this movie shake you up.

And while I know Kanye West isn’t exactly in the greatest of lights right now (I’m gonna let you finish), this movie doesn’t make his “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” comment seem all that crazy after all.

But the reason Lee makes it work is because he doesn’t get involved, he’s just there behind the camera. This isn’t a Michael Moore documentary, Lee knows he’s not the subject here. So instead, he lets New Orleans tell the story of what happened; the rubble of the city nearly six months after Katrina hit, the victims whose lives and families were lost in the hurricane and the ensuing FEMA fiasco (understatement of the millennium), the complete and utter lack of a response from those who could have helped, who were supposed to help, and a multitude of many other factors that all added to up to what the history books will someday qualify as nothing short of one of the U.S.A.’s most disgraceful, embarrassing moments.

It almost made me tempted to go into a tirade against the Bush administration in this review, but thanks to this movie, I don’t have to. The evidence is all right there for everyone to see, for our children’s children to see, and so is everyone who fucked up big time. I’m a big believer in karma, and though the white collar criminals responsible for everything that went wrong might not have gotten the comeuppance they deserved, I think one of the Katrina victims put it best when he said, “There’s a special circle in Hell reserved for these people, a circle Dante doesn’t even know about.”

I remember watching the news and hearing stories about everything that was happening in New Orleans back when this all happened, but after sitting through When the Levees Broke, I was in disbelief as to how little I actually knew, about how little the general public was being told by the media. To say that the citizens of New Orleans were ignored by their own government is in no way a satisfactory evaluation of what happened, and that’s why this movie needs to be seen.

All racial, social, and political corruption aside, the Hurricane Katrina disaster was more than anything a corruption of human nature, one that no one should be misled upon, nor forgotten. One of the best things Spike Lee has ever done.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2009 1:27 pm

    Oh I’m so glad you love this. Easily one of the finest and most incisive docs ever made and as important to Spike Lee’s legacy as Do the Right Thing or Malcolm X. I usually ignore Lee’s public persona as a self-promoter and insufferable provocateur (I do the same with Tarantino, as his films have a subtlety that is wholly at odds with his “I just wanted to make a Jewish revenge movie!” hyping), but here he uses that firebrand spirit, without ever stepping in front of the camera, to direct his rage at the staggering failure of state and federal (mainly federal, of course) government to fix the problem. My only, infinitely small, quibble with it is the unnecessary aside where he follows the guys who drive across state to tell Cheney to fuck himself, though considering that Lee actually went to New Orleans before Katrina hit and stayed through it, I can understand how he wanted to vent just as much as those men.

    • November 13, 2009 1:34 pm

      Lol, that scene really doesn’t complement the other aspects of the movie all that well, but still, had a big ol’ grin on my face when that happened. That kid had some balls.

  2. Kevin permalink
    March 10, 2010 7:30 pm

    I know I’m stepping into the time machine even commenting on this, but, I really think you should have done a little personal research before giving judgement on this one. It is true Lee stays behind the camera but he has no problem misrepresenting the truth like Moore. he constantly takes uninformed and bias opinions from the people of NO and presents them as gospel (for example: Insurance companies don’t sell flood insurance, the government does).

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