AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
A former U.S. vice-president's clarion call to save planet Earth Film Review: "An Inconvenient Truth"

By Omar P.L. Moore/June 1, 2006

Davis Guggenheim's documentary on the environmental crisis of global warming has one star: former U.S. vice president Al Gore.  The ingredients of "An Inconvenient Truth" are elementary: get a well-known figure to document in dramatic style and disturbing clarity just how much the world's but particularly America's collective inaction has placed planet Earth in the situation in which it finds itself.

Looking at the situation a different way, "An Inconvenient Truth" is one of those films that reverses casting roles ingeniously: the environment is the star, which is in danger and needs help.  The villain is the collective populace as well as the governments (the United States and Australia are cited in the film as the only two who have not ratified the Kyoto Treaty.)  And most importantly the film's heroes (and its ending) have yet to be made, because they are the audience.  Mr. Guggenheim's film is thus incomplete, because action is required from all who watch it.  The closing credits are a strong example of the kind of imploring and galvanizing of action.

"An Inconvenient Truth" -- whose title comes from a reference Al Gore makes about an Environmental Protection Agency climate control director who decided that the truth needed to be told after he was ordered to "doctor" reports by trivializing the dire shape of the environment as a "theory" -- articulates the catastrophic dangers of global warming which are growing ever more serious than before.  Mr. Gore's fascinating, compelling and powerful slide presentations, which he has repeated on more than 1,000 occasions around the world, are absorbing and highly educational.  The presentation is effortless and the material is clearly and concisely explained by Mr. Gore.  Mr. Guggenheim's cameras break things up and keep them flowing.  During the presentation that comprises the bulk of the documentary, Mr. Gore has a surprisingly charismatic and humorous air about him, placing him in a new or at least previously unseen public light.  "I'm Al Gore.  I used to be the next president of the United States."  After laughs from the presentation audience, he adds: "I don't find that particularly funny."  There are many other funny moments during the presentation, including the dilemma of what one wants more: to grab half a dozen gold bullion bars or save the Earth?  And to think that when he was in politics lack of the charisma on display here was said to be Mr. Gore's biggest stumbling block.

Interspersed with the slide presentation are anecdotal episodes by Mr. Gore, who speaks in voice-over about his childhood -- which included the fact that "when I was 14 years old I totaled the family car" -- and that Mr. Gore couldn't remember a day that went by when he wasn't working in the tobacco fields with his father near his childhood home.  His elder sister Nancy died of lung cancer at a young age.  As Mr. Gore explains, such events in the world around him shaped his passionate activism to save the environment from early on.


By the looks of things in "An Inconvenient Truth," Mr. Gore has firmly said goodbye to politics and has channeled the despair of controversially losing the top political office in America into remaining steadfast in his efforts to do more to pay serious attention to fixing the environmental woes of the Earth and educating millions of people worldwide to do something.  In a rare moment he admits that it is "really frustrating" to convey to people the pressing need to combat global warning and that politicians are a huge stumbling block.  There's a funny and painfully true line about the fact that an executive salary is based on the executive's own ignorance and inability to address or try to fix the environmental dangers that exist.  Mr. Guggenheim also shows news footage of the 2000 presidential fiasco that derailed Mr. Gore's place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and handed the current occupant of that address in Washington, D.C. the key to the American presidency.

Most effective in Mr. Guggenheim's film are the behind-the-scenes phone calls that Mr. Gore has with people who provide him crucial information and research, and when during the slide presentation Mr. Gore tells us devastating facts while showing us the shocking pictures of mountains in places around the globe whose polar caps have melted.  In one especially disquieting slide, we are told that "if half of Greenland and half of the Antarctic polar ice region melt," numerous big cities around the world will be partially or almost fully submerged by varying sea levels, including parts of Lower Manhattan, San Francisco, Beijing, India, Bangladesh.  In the last three places, "millions and millions of people would die," Mr. Gore cites, with millions more taking on the status of displaced citizens.  Hurricane Katrina is also mentioned and Mr. Gore explains the way waters become warmer and storms more frequent and powerful when global warming occurs.  "When Katrina hit Florida first, it was a category one."  Mr. Gore plays an audio tape of an angry and embattled (now recently re-elected) New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, who is heard declaring that the Katrina tragedy is the "biggest crisis in the history of [America]."

Another alarming fact was that a substantial increase in temperature occurred around the world over the last few years, particularly in 2003, when Arizona, Illinois, India, parts of the African continent, France, the United Kingdom and Italy among others, were among the cities and continents that recorded a spate of sweltering heat that killed thousands and thousands of people.  "An Inconvenient Truth" never insults the intelligence of its audience, and while it does (and should) chill you with the facts and not the confusion, it remains hopeful and optimistic that vigilant and sensible Americans can get up and make a difference at the polls and in political parties by running for office.  Given Mr. Gore's own predicament in 2000 this is an ironic juxtaposition.

Those who call themselves detractors of Mr. Gore will say that this documentary is a self-righteous, self-serving political commercial for an attempted run for the White House in 2008, and that it smacks of vanity and self-indulgence.  On an objective basis however, there's very little to suggest that the detractors are correct.  Mr. Gore seems to be sincere in his effort to help change the face of an ever-dangerous ecosystem and the only agenda he appears to have is to get the facts out to people in a very unequivocal way.  Why travel around the world to present the slides over a thousand times if you are just playing for time?  Mr. Gore may be campaigning here, but this time it is for a cause that on its face is far more urgent and of paramount importance, a cause that affects every living thing.  Mr. Guggenheim gained Mr. Gore's trust and was allowed to follow the former vice-president of the U.S. around for months as he jet-set around the globe and went home, and to functions surrounding the environment.


It is far from overstatement to say that "An Inconvenient Truth" is the most important film of our generation.  It is a film that must be seen by everyone and acted upon at all costs.  This may be the first urgent, interactive call-to-activism via the big screen.

Copyright 2006.  All Rights Reserved.


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