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When the Levees Broke

When the Levees Broke (2006)



Average Rating: 8.1/10
Critic Reviews: 16
Fresh: 16 | Rotten: 0

No consensus yet.



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Average Rating: 4.4/5
User Ratings: 5,680

My Rating

Movie Info

Academy Award-nominated director Spike Lee (the guiding force behind the critically acclaimed documentary 4 Little Girls) turns to nonfiction filmmaking once again with the heart-wrenching marathon work When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, produced by Lee's Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks and originally screened on HBO. In four "acts" of approximately one hour each, Lee examines the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in the late summer of 2005 and the incorrigible response to


Documentary, Television, Special Interest

Dec 19, 2006

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Latest News on When the Levees Broke

June 29, 2011:
Will Smith Wants Denzel Washington for American Can
One megastar seeks another megastar to fill the megastar-sized void in his Katrina-inspired project.
August 20, 2010:
Spike Lee Talks If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise
In a new interview with Collider, Spike Lee offers a behind-the-scenes look at his new HBO...


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All Critics (30) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (28) | Rotten (1) | DVD (8)

The same didactic instincts that sometimes mar Lee's fictional filmmaking serve him well as a documentarian and eulogist.

September 23, 2006
Globe and Mail
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Surely the most magnificent and large-souled record of a great American tragedy ever put on film.

August 28, 2006
New Yorker
Top Critic IconTop Critic

What breaks your heart is the film's accumulated firsthand stories of New Orleans residents who lost everything in the flood after Hurricane Katrina, and the dismaying conclusion that a year after the disaster, the broken city has been largely abandoned.

August 22, 2006 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

When the Levees Broke is like the New Orleans jazz funeral -- a dirge on the way to the cemetery, an up-tempo parade in the deceased's honor on the bittersweet walk back home.

August 22, 2006 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

An exhaustive, ruminative, angry and even occasionally gallows-humorous account of the strange domino effect of tragedy compounding incompetence compounding tragedy that dealt a critical blow to one of America's great cities.

August 22, 2006 Full Review Source: L.A. Weekly
L.A. Weekly
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Do the flaws diminish Levees? To a degree. But the story Lee tells is so powerful, so important, that the lapses aren't a reason not to pay heed to what this passionate film has to say.

August 22, 2006 Full Review Source: San Jose Mercury News
San Jose Mercury News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Spike Lee's masterful and disturbing Katrina docu.

December 18, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

There's no way to truly distill this triumph into a handful of words. The ghosts of so many color the corners of a mournful poem and a powerful prayer that's pissed off, hopeful, practical, empathetic and one of the most important documentaries ever made.

December 2, 2010 Full Review Source:

Arguably Lee's best effort since Do the Right Thing.

July 20, 2007 Full Review Source: Oregonian

...provides an extraordinarily detailed look at this event, and its worth is sure to be felt increasingly as the memories fade and the anger softens with time and distance.

June 21, 2007 Full Review Source: Film Scouts
Film Scouts

Despite capturing many heartbreaking aspects of the disaster, this is essentially an overambitious mess which ultimately fails to convey effectively the scale or scope of the ongoing tragedy.

May 11, 2007 Full Review Source: One People's Project | Comments (6)
One People's Project

It's the depth and weight of Freeman Jr's or Michael Wright's or Phyllis Leblanc's words, the anger and sadness behind them, that surge forth here, sinking the political elite's murderously empty promises.

March 9, 2007
Vue Weekly (Edmonton, Canada)

In this golden era of documentary filmmaking, When the Levess Broke is among the very best films of the past year, fiction and non-fiction alike.

December 22, 2006 Full Review Source: Cinemania

...what should have been a searing, powerful documentary generally comes off as a rough cut that's desperately in need of some judicious editing.

September 8, 2006 Full Review Source: Reel Film Reviews
Reel Film Reviews

It's an honest, fair and unflinching look at one of the greatest, and saddest, natural disasters to hit our shores.

September 5, 2006 Full Review Source: Film Threat
Film Threat

[The film] presents a poignant picture of official blunders and personal loss, and provides important national lessons if another threat this size hits an American city.

August 22, 2006 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor

Audience Reviews for When the Levees Broke

Spike Lee's touching documentary on Hurricane Katrina is horrific and beautiful. A film that all americans should see.
October 30, 2011
Graham Jones

Super Reviewer

Aside from 'Crooklyn' I can't say that I'm a big Spike Lee fan.

But this documentary is so INCREDIBLY well done that I can forgive him some of the mediocre/crappy films he has made prior to this.

Spike brings a face (several actually) and a heart (albeit broken) to the tragic events following hurricane Katrina.

An event that is a true disgrace to our country and the good people of the gulf coast. And will forever be a scar on the face of our history as Americans.

If this film doesn't bring tears to your eyes, an ache to your heart and a ball of anger to your stomach...then you are either heartless or a Republican (possibly both?).
April 14, 2008
Robert C

Super Reviewer

[font=Century Gothic]Spike Lee's epic documentary, "When the Levees Broke" is an oral history of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans told from the vantage point of survivors, local celebrities, experts, Governor Kathleen Blanco and Mayor Ray Nagin. Blanco and Nagin received mixed grades while with the exception of the Coast Guard, the federal government is attacked for its painfully slow response. Their testimony helps put the unforgettable images into perspective.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]The one thing missing from this documentary which I was fully expecting was anger and outrage which only come in very short bursts, usually directed rightfully at the Bush Administration.(Indirectly, New Orleans became another casualty of the Iraq debacle.) Maybe Spike Lee is maturing as a filmmaker and the sensationalism is kept at a minimum(even the theory that the levees were dynamited sounds rational once it is placed in historical context), but there is a time and a place for rage and this is certainly the place.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]Spike Lee uses the metaphor of a jazz funeral for the city - mournful music followed by an upbeat tempo. So, maybe there is hope for New Orleans to return to its former glory, but not as an amusement park, industrial park or gentrified white suburb.[/font]
October 15, 2007
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

Spike Lee insisted that we watch all 4 hours, 15 minutes without a break at the Film Festival. We obliged even though it was eventually broken up over 5 nights on PBS. I derived nothing from the "uncut" version but such an epic still deserves praise in telling the tale of those who's lives were changed due to government neglect.
June 20, 2013
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

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