An ‘almost great’ documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth” serves as two things – primarily a fascinating research study into the issue of global warming, and secondarily as a somewhat glossed over look at the life of Al Gore. The educational moments work beautifully, the personal bits don’t and it’s a true shame as this is an issue that’s far more important for the population of this world to consider than other threats like terrorism and the debates over non-issues like gay marriage and legalised abortion.
Of its runtime, a good 75 minutes of ‘Truth’ is simply video footage of Al Gore giving a presentation on global warming, something he has done many hundreds of times now since losing the election in 2000. These are the film’s best moments – Gore is an excellent public speaker, one who’s commanding and forceful when needed, but never overbearing. He’s able to relax and have a laugh with his audience, not afraid to mix pie graphs and university data with news graphics, comparison photography and even a quite clever clip from the animated series “Futurama”. Yes the film is for the most part a lecture, but it’s the least boring lecture I’ve ever endured.
Gore cleverly takes some heavy scientific information and using visual references, graphs, photos and demonstrations is able to effectively convey to your average layman the impact that global warming is having on the culture. In the film’s strongest moments, Gore deftly uses compelling factual evidence to shatter many of the myths and arguments that naysayers against global warming often fall back on when getting into a debate on the issue. At times there’s the odd tenuous link that Gore tries to associate specific natural disasters as a direct effect of global warming. At others he takes the odd cheap pot shot at the current Bush administration that whilst damning, seem a little cheap.
Nevertheless, those moments are few and far between. Gore is no Michael Moore, 90% of the time he’s standing on a bedrock of hard scientific facts and refreshingly doesn’t skew them to support his argument, rather letting them stand on their own. He’s also at times nicely impartial, definitively showing that we’re basically screwing the planet over but always categorically stating that this is an issue that we can solve and that each one of us can do our part. Supporters of the issue are often seen as prophets of doom, but Gore never takes that easy option – deftly adding a subtle message of hope throughout, showing the success that has been achieved in the past (the elimination of CFC’s has allowed the ozone layer to begin repairing itself), and towards the end offers practical solutions to the issue.
Where ‘Truth’ falls down is the personal moments. Director Davis Guggenheim tries to break up the presentation by intermixing it with a 10-15 minute biography of Al Gore’s life and how he came about doing these lectures. That would be fine but Guggenheim paints everything with rose-coloured glasses, making these moments seem more like a presidential campaign commercial than a serious study of the man. Far more compelling than learning about Gore’s life in rural America would have been an examination of what he has done towards this issue.
As Vice President, Gore was a big supporter of environmental issues but the film very visibly skips over his time in the White House. We never learn what Gore, when he had real power at his disposal, tried to do. Indeed, one of the big arguments that anti-GW proponents have against the film and these lectures in general is that Gore made mistakes during his time in office in regards to this issue and could’ve done a lot more if he was serious about it.
These segments attempt to canonise the man into an unflappable modern day crusader for justice, but learning about where he fished as a boy doesn’t help us as an audience empathise with him. One should talk about what the movie has rather than doesn’t, but in this case it’s simply frustrating to see such an important film let down by such an obvious weak link. Hearing Gore taking responsibility for his actions, both good and bad, and trying to learn from his mistakes would’ve demonstrated a maturity and humility that would endear him far more to audiences of all political persuasions.
The film also avoids the two other main environmental issues – deforestation and big business. The former is brought up but glossed over, the latter is barely touched upon. There’s consensus amongst the scientific community that global warming exists, but not amongst the public. Global warming, like most issues, always comes down to one thing – money. Big business has tried to propagate the myth that it doesn’t exist, or if it does humans are not responsible, simply because it would cost companies a fortune to swap over to clean technology (and would send those in the fossil fuel industry out of business). If ways could be shown that companies could increase their profits by adopting clean technology, don’t be surprised if the debate disappears overnight.
Whilst those little touches ultimately undermine ‘Truth’ from become the Earth-shattering movie it wants to be, they don’t stop the film from easily being one of the year’s best. Those already versed in the issue won’t learn anything new here, but those with only passing familiarity will find this a shocking wake-up call. It takes an issue that many dismiss as either boring or too complicated and spells it all out very clearly and concisely. Frightening, compelling and at points unforgettable.