When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

Critics Consensus

When the Levees Broke offers a heart-rending elegy for an American city overflowing with culture, beset by natural disaster, and betrayed by institutional indifference.



Reviews Counted: 33

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Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,826


All Critics | Top Critics
Average Rating: N/A
Reviews Count: 0
Fresh: 0
Rotten: 0


Average Rating: 4.4/5

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Movie Info

Controversial filmmaker Spike Lee explores the U.S. government's response to the disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina in this made-for-television documentary co-produced by HBO and Lee's own 40 Acres & a Mule Filmworks.

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Critic Reviews for When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

All Critics (33) | Top Critics (17)

  • ... masterful crosscutting mix of past and present, of authority and anguish, of ass-covering officialdom and angry dispossession, of sick-city misery and soul-stirring music...

    Jan 17, 2018 | Full Review…
  • The same didactic instincts that sometimes mar Lee's fictional filmmaking serve him well as a documentarian and eulogist.

    Sep 23, 2006 | Rating: 4/4
    Globe and Mail
    Top Critic
  • Surely the most magnificent and large-souled record of a great American tragedy ever put on film.

    Aug 28, 2006

    David Denby

    New Yorker
    Top 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.

    Aug 22, 2006 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Aug 22, 2006 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Aug 22, 2006

Audience Reviews for When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

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.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

Spike Lee's touching documentary on Hurricane Katrina is horrific and beautiful. A film that all americans should see.

Graham Jones
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?).

Robert C
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]

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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