With ice caps melting, sea levels rising, and Poseidon sinking fast, this is no environment for any disaster movie, particularly a real one, to take our interest for granted. Thus An Inconvenient Truth, named for the super-bad news of global climate change, isn't just another lefty doc for the art-house set, but "by far the most terrifying film you will ever see," according to the ads, which feature a trio of smokestacks spewing what looks like the perfect storm. Fear sells...usually. But how scary is it that this sugarcoated pill would be administered by Al Gore, an activist whose seemingly pharmaceutical calm is almost as alarming as his message? Credit the "former next president" and his director, Davis Guggenheim, with recognizing that their film of Gore's self-described "slide show" might come across as a bit more human with the help of a supporting player—namely a Pixarish polar bear whose would-be ice rafts crack under claw.
Seriously: That sad CG creature, left to drown in warm arctic water, emotes more poignantly than does Gore or even the prehistoric casualties of Ice Age: The Meltdown—a crucial achievement for a summer movie whose truth runs the risk of remaining merely inconvenient if it can't compete with fiction. Suffice it to say that the Al Gore concert film ain't exactly Dave Chappelle's Block Party. Onstage, pointer in hand, the pedant Gore mounts a hydraulic lift to follow the climb of carbon dioxide literally off the charts—a dramatic high point of his presentation. More effective in attention-getting terms are the Cameronian computer images of the ocean engulfing Lower Manhattan (the projected result of the Greenland ice sheet's shrink by 2050) and Gore's voiceover commentary: "Is it possible that we should guard against other threats besides terrorists?"
An Inconvenient Truth, produced last year but released, conveniently, during a new low for both presidential approval ratings and SUV resale values, isn't afraid to Bush-bash even at the risk of appearing partisan (or petulant) on the part of its leading man. Gore asserts in the film that the issues facing the planet are, above all, moral—an argument that would seem hard or impossible for anyone outside of the current administration to refute. Yet the personal is political, as the saying goes, and whenever Guggenheim departs from the show-and-tell to sketch the speaker's motives, the film makes for compelling psychobiography despite the fact that Gore, stiff as an air-conditioned breeze at the Four Seasons, isn't the least bit compelling himself.
"Well, that was a hard blow," the un(s)elected candidate declares with body-snatched understatement over the usual TV news montage of Florida's sudden climate change from blue to red. "What do you do? You make the best of it." Gore's election "loss," added to the lingering effects of family tragedy (his sister's death from lung cancer, his six-year-old's near-fatal accident) and his college science prof's persuasive weather predictions, is used to explain the pol's resolve to take his global warning on a world tour. Guggenheim's backstage repertoire consists mainly of Gore looking pensively out the windows of airplanes and town cars, the activist jet-setter's fuel-burning justified unconditionally by his urgent need to get out the message (if not the vote).
That message, as delivered by the film in abbreviated form, culminates in an end-credit list of questions (e.g., "Are you ready to change the way you live?") and constructive advice, including, "Encourage everyone you know to see this movie." I guess I can do that. An Inconvenient Truth does restore one's faith in the value of documentary-as-lecture, not least by extolling the virtues—rare as clean water these days—of politician-as-teacher. The lengthy handheld shot that follows the star from greenroom to stage as applause builds steadily in volume won't turn Gore into Bono, but the man who would've been president speaks in complete sentences about scientific fact, particularly as it relates to looming global catastrophe. And by current standards, that's a helluva lot.
How much can Truth do to lower the temperature? More than Fahrenheit 9/11? The film charts the consequences of Gore's life circumstances on his work and, more literally, those of our civilization on the planet, drawing irrefutable connections between CO2 levels and global warming, ocean temperatures and storm strengths, thawing permafrost and "drunken trees," and the combined effect of all this on the depletion of soil and water and the spread of disease. Call Moviefone today? That CG polar bear would seem essential and, in the absence of Superman, maybe not enough. One shudders to think that our blockbusting fantasies of disaster might've dulled our sense of the real thing, but such fear certainly explains the uncanny resemblance of Truth's advertising to The Day After Tomorrow's. It's a tough climate in more ways than one.
On the bright side, reality still has an impact—perhaps even what you'd call deep impact. During the last screening at Sundance, where An Inconvenient Truth premiered, the footage that drew the most audible response was archival—that of an Antarctic ice shelf's tragic fall to the sea. Louder than the massive crash of ice on water was the audience's collective gasp.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.