“The Flood” announces its intentions long before star Lena Headey utters her first line.
The drama flashes statistics about people pushed out of their homes by “persecution, conflict and violence.” It’s the kind of detail movies typically add at the end for a contextual coda.
It’s hardly “The Flood’s” only clue about the subject in play -- the European refugee crisis.
And that’s a shame because “The Flood” boasts two potent performance and the kind of smaller details that make a story pop. Instead, they’re the dramatic exceptions to the in-your-face rules.
Headey stars as Wendy, an immigration official at a U.K. processing center. She’s asked to interrogate Haile (Ivanno Jeremiah), a man who traveled thousands of miles to reach British shores. His story is told mostly in flashback, as Wendy scribbles notes, swigs from her water bottle and shares little emotion about his plight.
The film turns her stack of papers into a character unto itself. We hear the pages flipping and her pen clicking, a numbing procession that avoids the human factor.
A soul’s future is at stake.
Wendy can’t focus on Haile’s plight alone, though. She’s frantic about the draconian divorce process that separated her from her daughter. Still, she listens as he shares his harrowing tale. She assumes, from experience, that he’s lying through his teeth.
It’s what refugees do, she’s learned. Or, at the very least, it’s what she’s been taught to think.
Films can carry a distinct point of view without sacrificing integrity or entertainment value. “The Flood” goes a few steps too far, rendering complex themes with broad, hurried strokes.
- Why does England limit the number of refugees entering the country?
- Are there security risks in play?
- What are the legal methods for seeking asylum?
- Do refugees place an undue strain on available resources?
- Can other neighboring countries accept them?
One movie can’t tackle all of the above. To do so would slow the narrative to a crawl. Still, “The Flood” ignores those questions, letting its pro-refugee mien overwhelm the story.
Haile isn’t just any old refugee. He’s smart, humble and kind. Jeremiah renders him brave when necessary, willing to sacrifice himself for others if the need arises. He’s saintly, which makes him an inauthentic symbol of the refugee story despite the actor’s considerable talents.
Screenwriter Helen Kingston shrewdly humanizes the immigration officials, to a point. Wendy’s supervisor (Iain Glen) may be cold, but he shows genuine compassion for her personal struggles. Still, their calloused natures as a flow of strangers enter their cubicles remains the focus.
“The Flood” is based on “true stories,” which gave Kingston enough wiggle room to make every element of the film more dramatic than necessary. It’s not enough that Haile’s trek is fraught with peril. She injects obstacles that would feel right at home in a ’70s soap opera.
Kingston’s personal statement, supplied in the press notes, offers a peek into her creative process.
The debate about immigration rages in this country and all around the world. In recent years the right-wing media dehumanizes these men, women and children with the phrase “the flood of immigrants.” The left-wing media give counter-arguments but echo the rhetoric, “the so-called flood of immigrants.” I think it very important to bring audiences a personal and compelling story behind the headlines, behind ‘the flood.’
Op-eds and feature films remain two distinct formats.
“The Flood” spends too much time retelling elements of Haile’s journey, some which are patently clear based on the film’s framing device. Far worse is a dangling question about a violent clash between Haile and local law enforcement. It’s here where depicting him as preternaturally kind saps any surprise from the reveal.
A subplot involving Pakistani refugees begins with promise but become yet another narrative groaner.
Director Anthony Woodley fares better by capturing the indignities of the refugee experience. The sight of Haile’s shoes, barely held together and sporting visible gaps, tells more than entire reams of dialogue. So does Haile’s confession that no one has asked to hear his name in ages.
“The Flood” engages our emotions, no doubt. It also stacks the dramatic deck in ways that diminish both the story in question and the larger, consequential debate.
HiT or Miss: “The Flood” wants us to care about the refugee plight, a humanistic spirit that drags down the film’s better elements.