2008 OSCAR NOMINEES
"This is the Lord's work," observes Kimberly Rivers Roberts from the attic of her New Orleans home as she watches it being flooded in the middle of Hurricane Katrina. It is one of the many dozens of times she, or one of the locals she points her camcorder at, evokes the name of God. "He's mad at New Orleans, and I don't blame him," she declares.
Trouble the Water, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary (and the final movie in my Oscar Nods week), is a fascinating record of the storm's devastation in late August 2005. Presented in nonlinear fashion, we see aspiring rap star Kimberly's home video footage of her neighborhood before, during and after the levees broke; we get interviews with her friends, husband and other family members as they talk about their ravaged homes and lives. The first third of the movie consists largely of Kimberly's extremely shaky camera work during all phases of the storm; more than once, it brought to mind last year's hit Cloverfield, another kind of disaster movie filmed with an unsteady hand. But where you only occasionally saw the monster in that picture, in Trouble the Water, the monster is everywhere, all the time. It's one of the film's best touches that the victims making the documentary never really lose their sense of humor—even when they're at death's door, they try to keep smiling. Though it does occasionally drag during the final third (chronicling Katrina's aftermath), Trouble the Water shows us the horror and humanity of a city unforgivably ignored by the government. One well-placed scene of George Bush promising that help is on the way drew boos and hisses from audience members, who have just seen the horrifying footage of residents in danger. And I won't soon forget hearing the desperate call to a 911 operator by a man pleading for help for his young children, and his being told that help will not be coming.
On the downside, the innumerable references to God and faith by the film's "cast" hindered my enjoyment of the film. That these people can continue to believe in anything after the horrors wreaked upon them is not inspirational, it's just maddening. Rating: 3/5.