An Inconvenient Truth

The hazard of global warming is a less than glamorous issue as far as problems go. In the clamorous, cable-news-cycle-fed race for public attention — where the issue of immigration can race up the polls like a hopped-up hare — it’s the tortoise of societal troubles, real and enormous but full of sometimes hard-to-impart quantitative data. So it’s perhaps fittingly ironic that former Vice President Al Gore — an alternately sanctimonious and stiff figure once famously derided as “not dead, just appearing that way” — has made it his own personal cause célèbre, most recently as the subject of the town hall documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Its very name a nod to this issue’s status as a nuisance, An Inconvenient Truth is directed by Davis Guggenheim, whose credits include the feature Gossip as well as work on 24, ER, Deadwood, The Shield and Alias. It’s basically a churched-up version of the same lecture that Gore has personally given more than a thousand times in cramped school auditoriums and hotel conference rooms all around the country, and indeed the world. In highlighting our collective constipation and sounding the drumbeat of the moral imperative for action, though, the film has one hell of a natural arc, pulling viewers from doubt and/or slumber through despair all the way through to, hopefully, a place of roused consciousness.

The film charts rising world carbon dioxide levels (of which the United States is responsible for more than 30 percent), and their effects on everything from the melting polar ice caps and the snow on Mount Kilimanjaro to other changed weather patterns. With a vast spectrum of data that runs from macro to micro, An Inconvenient Truth tips into didacticism on occasion — it disappears up its own ass for a moment in charting the migratory patterns of birds in the Netherlands without even a good-natured shrug of acknowledgment — but for the most part the movie is solidly measured. It connects the dots between events, and presents a clear, causal relationship between our collective behavior and habits, and the consequences for Earth, and does so with aplomb.

Most galling is the evidence, both anecdotal and specific, of how stubborn and largely unwilling to engage on the matter our political bureaucracy is, and how a stealthy smear campaign against the fact of global warming has been waged by those that would seek to reframe it as opinion, if only to further the interests of Big Oil and/or avoid action and the difficult but entirely necessary choices that come with it.

There’s an interesting element of revival tent salesmanship to An Inconvenient Truth, albeit with Gore cast as the reluctant, chastised martyr. Walking silently through airport security checkpoints — carrying his own luggage in Everyman fashion, with a Philip Glass-like score by Michael Brook swelling at his back — the film touches on, with humor, his failed 2000 presidential bid, and at times plays as a reprimanded child’s self-effacing attempt at reconciliation. Still, lest anyone view Gore’s bell-ringing cynically, his concern is as legitimate as it is deep; he’s been interested in the issue since college, an environmental hawk since his days in Congress, and has authored several best-selling books on global warming and related matters.

Though generally presented in a fawning, overly obsequious style, the film also has a heartening degree of candor, with Gore opening up a bit about himself and his family, from his tobacco-farming roots to how his priorities changed when his son almost died at 6 years of age, leaving him thinking more and more about the world he wanted to help leave behind for his children. A fuller portrait of the man emerges — perhaps one that couldn’t have developed without his humbling presidential defeat, but a revealing portrait nonetheless. Regardless of personal politics, Gore is a true statesman, and angling genuinely to make America and the world a better place.

Accompanied by a strong Internet and viral campaigns, An Inconvenient Truth will nonetheless face an uphill battle on the summer box office playing field, where noise and color often go over better than substance. Its triumph, though, is the manner in which it highlights the notion of political will as a renewable resource. Is the film the cinematic equivalent of a vegetable medley? Yes, more or less. But everyone needs some green in their diet. (Paramount Classics, PG, 98 mins.)


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