The Big Uneasy


Review by Willard Manus

In this hard-hitting feature-length documentary, satirist and New Orleans resident Harry Shearer digs deep into the Hurricane Katrina scandal, showing not only why it happened but why it could easily happen again.

Hurricane Katrina was anything but a natural disaster. It was, as THE BIG UNEASY shows, a survivable storm, one whose damage could have been avoided if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had done its job. For years, independent engineers and investigators had warned the Corps that its flood-prevention system was badly flawed. Instead of heeding these warnings, the Corps not only rejected them but maligned their authors, going so far (as in the case of Dr. Ivor van Heerden, a Marine Scientist at LSU) to get them fired from their jobs. It's no wonder that the Corps has been called a government unto itself.

Also complicit in the Katrina tragedy was Congress. Instead of applying pressure on the Corps to mend its ways, the politicians in Washington threw money at the Corps, to the tune of half a billion dollars over four decades. Reason? Many of those on the oversight committees were taking election donations from the construction companies favored by the Corps. Recently Congress allocated $1.4 billion for a "new, improved" system that Maria Garzino, a gutsy whistle-blower interviewed in the film, insists has a serious design deficiency at its heart.

THE BIG UNEASY is crammed with an impressive amount of data, charts and lectures (civil engineers, ecologists, journalists). The film's didacticism, however, is tempered by man-on-the-street interviews with blunt-talking local folk, plus a few satirical riffs by John Goodman.

Shearer is known mostly as a humorist; he does voices for The Simpsons, was one of the creators of This Is Spinal Tap, writes comic songs and radio scripts. But this time around he shows his serious side, concentrating on the science and math that prove the charges he and others make in THE BIG UNEASY. Shearer is angry about the man-made disaster that nearly destroyed his beloved New Orleans--and he's trying his damndest to educate the public and prevent it from happening again.