The Unforeseen: A Mess in Texas

A haunting meditation on hubris and the folly of claiming rights over something as elemental—and temperamental—as the environment, Laura Dunn's billowing, imagistic nonfiction feature (executive produced by Terrence Malick and Robert Redford) can be seen as part of a small but growing canon of ecological-alarm docs. But the qualities that make The Unforeseen ineffective as a shrieking call to arms—among them a tone that's less hectoring than contemplative, a glacial pace that encourages reflection, and an unusual sympathy for the opposition—make it vastly more absorbing as a movie. Dunn traces the buildup and aftermath of a controversial 1990s development deal that threatened Austin, Texas' beloved Barton Springs swimming hole, focusing on the deluded wheeler-dealer, Gary Bradley, who devised the 4,000-acre subdivision. Using archival footage and modern-day interviews, sometimes contrasted to poignant effect, Dunn lays out what neither Bradley nor his environmentalist foes could foresee—the collapse of the Texas S&L industry, the shifting winds of politics, and the impact of the developmental havoc on the springs' once-sparkling waters. Through cinematographer Lee Daniel's transfixing glimpses of the natural world and an agrarian lifestyle at risk, The Unforeseen ponders nothing less than what happens when we turn our backs on the divine.

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