Visually rich, narratively ambitious social-problem docs are as uncommon as point-and-shoot nonfiction harangues (and the ills they chronicle) are abundant, so Laura Dunn’s The Unforeseen is a rare gift. Plainspoken yet urgent, it makes the wrist-slashingly depressing topic of real-estate development somehow transcendent.
This is partly the influence of executive producers Terrence Malick and Robert Redford (the latter of whom appears a little too extensively on camera), which in one sense makes the film a fascinating, unexpected collaboration between two Indiewood warhorses. But it’s Dunn who finds languid lyricism in the central theme of humanity’s (or Texans’, anyway) exploitation of nature. She does so largely by approaching the issue at hand—the parceling of an Austin suburban enclave and its potential for wholesale land-rape—obliquely and with an eye toward the cosmic. One memorable scene, in which a surly, development-friendly legislator assembles a model bomber plane as he’s being interviewed, tells us more about “the deserted prospect of the modern mind” (to quote the Wendell Berry poem that gives the film its title) than a thousand well-meaning lectures from Al Gore. Committed and life-affirming without being naive or strident, The Unforeseen is the movie An Inconvenient Truth wanted to be.