Now on Hulu, The Flood is the marriage of work and a personal awareness crusade for star and executive producer Lena Headey. Best known for Game of Thrones, the British actress has been an outspoken advocate for refugees, so it makes sense that she’d play an immigration officer who hears the story of Eritrean asylum-seeker who’s a fictional representation of, per an opening title card, the world’s 70 million refugees, 18,000 of whom have died in their attempts to cross the border to Europe.
THE FLOOD: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: The camera hovers high above the highway. A semi-truck cuts through the English countryside. Night falls, and the camera zooms in on the vehicle. The cops hit the siren as it cruises by. The driver climbs out, and pretends to struggle with the trailer latch. One cop occasionally shines his flashlight into the woods nearby. The other grabs the latch and, as he pulls it open, a man leaps from the opening, knife in hand. They quickly arrest him.
Wendy (Headey) is a bureaucrat. She interviews illegal immigrants who are seeking asylum in the U.K.; as a wily veteran paper-pusher, she’s heard every lie and excuse from desperate people willing to do anything to get out of their home countries. Then she goes home to a depressing apartment, drinks and yearns for her young daughter, who’s in the custody of her ex-husband. She gets up every morning, fills her water bottle with vodka and commutes to work. Her next assignment made front-page news in a tabloid rag, because he leapt out of a truck, attacking cops with a knife. Her boss (Iain Glen) would love it if this were an open-and-shut case: assault the police, go back to your own country, the immigration office marches toward its quota.
Wendy’s interrogation room is not the humanization bureau. She fires questions without even a trace of compassion at the man, Haile (Ivanno Jeremiah), showing little concern that she might be triggering his trauma. But he’s honest and credible, a truth-will-set-you-free type. His story is conveyed in a series of flashbacks. He’s wanted for treason — he’s a soldier who refused to execute a prisoner in cold blood. He was tortured for several days, but escaped over the border, through Africa, to the Mediterranean Sea before washing up in Italy. He ends up in a refugee camp known as “The Jungle,” where he meets Faiz (Peter Singh) and his pregnant wife Reema (Mandip Gill). All three want to get to England — but Haile reminds them that they’re actually four. They smile. He’s a good man. But how much weight does goodness carry when you want to cross the border illegally to save your own life?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The Flood has much in common with The Visitor, Sin Nombre, A Better Life and other strong, sympathetic dramas about immigration.
Performance Worth Watching: Jeremiah is absolutely up to the task of bearing the majority of the film’s dramatic weight. Take note of the remarkable scene in which Haile carefully negotiates border passage with a dangerous man, and Jeremiah subtly conveys the character’s savvy — he understands that earnestness is a virtue, but but too much honesty will harm his cause.
Memorable Dialogue: Wendy: “Before you get to your story, I should tell you the British government has carried out an in-depth inquiry and shows that those who returned to Eritrea, those who left illegally, have been-”
“Shot,” Haile says, finishing her sentence.
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: Haile’s story is suspenseful and engrossing, high-stakes, high-wire drama anchored by Jeremiah’s committed performance. The actor’s tone immediately endears us to his conundrum, and has us questioning why a man so impervious to corruption would attack cops with a knife. It’s so blatantly contrary to the truth of his character, and we watch rapt, wanting to learn why.
Strong as it can be at times, The Flood falls into a few pat plot traps as screenwriter Helen Kingston contrives parallels between Wendy and Haile’s personal lives, creating a tidy patch of common ground for them. The Wendy character is frustratingly thin; the film doesn’t seem interested in asking why she — and so many people in our nonfictional world — struggles to empathize with others until they’re afflicted with similar hardships. (And screenwriters everywhere, please recognize the our-mothers-have-the-same-name conceit is forever ruined by Batman v Superman.)
It is noble in its intent, though, asserting the idea that a person’s experiences can’t be reduced to replies on a questionnaire, that the fate of a human life shouldn’t be determined by a system stooge carrying rubber stamps that say YES or NO. Suffering is an unavoidable component of the human condition, but when some suffer too much? That’s a tragedy.
Our Call: STREAM IT. The Flood is a good-but-not-great indie with a benevolent heart. It’s also a showcase for Ivanno Jeremiah, who deserves an opportunity to grand-slam a juicy Oscar-bait role.