The Great Invisible Is a Stately Exploration of the BP Oil Spill


Margaret Brown’s documentary The Great Invisible stands as a Very Important Film, and not just because of its impressive pedigree. Collectively, the creative team behind Invisible is responsible for the films The Order of Myths, God Loves Uganda, Night Catches Us, Food Inc., and dozens more socially conscious works.

Invisible traces the history behind and fallout from British Petroleum’s incalculably devastating rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Unfortunately, given both its content and the media’s collective failure to fully report the (ongoing) story, the film only intermittently has a pulse. It’s meant to be a multi-layered look at the issue, focusing on several rig workers who survived the blast, an elderly African American community activist, and a group of often tone-deaf Big Oil businessmen, one of whom underscores his prickishness by puffing cigars while he ruminates.

The upsides of that approach are many: a detailed outlining of how the American government is too deep in the pocket of the oil industry to ever seek justice or real compensation; the winning presence of Roosevelt Harris, the elderly activist who acts as tour guide through the lives of the common folk still struggling; and — almost incidentally — the subtle shattering of stereotype when the camera pans the bookshelves of one of the workers. And video footage of the rig shot by one of the workers before the explosion is a real coup.

But the film often feels plodding, too stately, perhaps, for its own good. It’s a good primer on the matter, but other recent documentaries on the same subject — Josh and Rebecca Tickell’s The Big Fix; Nailah Jefferson’s Vanishing Pearls — cover the same political and personal ground with just as much reporting detail, but also with senses of urgency and passion that make them superior efforts.