When The Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts Review

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Spike Lee's documentary about the events before, during and after Hurricane Katrina's devastating attack on New Orleans.


Spike Lee directs this four-hour, four-part HBO documentary in
the simplest, most compelling manner: he simply points his camera at his subjects and lets them talk. And talk. And talk.
Four hours later, only the hardest heart will not have melted, and only the most forgiving will not be up for storming the White House.

The four parts of this memorable requiem are broadly divided into before, during, after, and beyond the devastation wrought on the city of New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf States by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. What acts as the underlying motif, however, is a strong sense that this was not just some awful freak act of nature.

Instead, as Lee conducts his hundreds of interviews, a terrible conspiracy begins to emerge, one in which the various authorities knew what was going to happen, did sod all about it, and then proceeded to wash their hands of the whole sorry mess.

Along the way, Lee talks to the great and the good, among them Sean Penn, Kanye West, the mayor, the governor, and a host of jazz musicians from the so-called Big Easy. It is in his conversations with the ordinary people of New Orleans, though, that the film really bursts into life, as we sit and listen first in fear, then sympathy, then anger, then sheer bloody outrage as they tell their stories of loss, lies and betrayal.

New Orleans here comes across as a more exotic Liverpool, and Lee chronicles a disaster akin to that city being literally flooded by the Mersey. In making such a universal tragedy out of such a local scandal, Lee may just have made the greatest film of his brilliant career.

The people do the talking in this rage-fuelled doc and only the stone hearted will fail to be moved by the resilience of the affected and the inaction of their government.