You know that old guy at the side of the road? The one with the long beard and crazy eyes, carrying a huge sign reading, “THE END IS NEAR!” Former Vice President (and 2000 presidential hopeful) Al Gore risks being that guy in the new documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The film is rooted in a lecture on global warming that Gore has given, in his own estimation, thousands of times all over the world. It is a cautionary tale about the myriad potential horrors that could result from neglecting the environment. Gore’s intelligence and humor anchor the serious matter at hand, preventing him from turning into that Doomsday Prophet (a role the media has sometimes thrust upon him).
In the past few years, the documentary as a film genre has gotten a bigger makeover than the patients on Dr. 90210—and the reason for that largely falls at the feet of one man. Like it or not, Michael Moore has helped make documentaries popular—a fact I’m sure he’d be happy to remind you of. My only concern going into An Inconvenient Truth was that it would stylistically ape Moore’s Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. Don’t get me wrong, I liked both of those films and I thought that they raised many good questions; however, they are essentially the non-fiction equivalent of films like Crash: bold, shocking and intense, but also one-sided and overly self-satisfied.
As a central “character,” Gore couldn’t be more different from the self-aggrandizing Moore. That’s fortunate, because the film rests almost entirely upon his amiable shoulders. One of the things that impressed me most about the film was how much it strived to be non-partisan. As expected, there were a few gentle swipes at Bush, but the focus remained on the problems at hand rather than descending into the blame game. Furthermore, despite the very real and serious problems he is addressing, Gore remains upbeat and focused on finding solutions.
The filmmaking itself, if less than exceptional, gets the job done. Director Davis Guggenheim uses the footage of Gore giving the lecture as the core of the film, interspersed with shots of the former VP on the road. The first half, while informative, drags at times and comes off a bit dry. It’s the second half of the movie where the focus sharpens and it really takes off. One small touch that makes the film unique is the addition of a few brief stories from Gore’s personal life, including the near-loss of his son at age six and the death of his sister from lung cancer (Gore’s father had once farmed tobacco). Without stating it directly, the movie eloquently points out that to make a global problem seem real, you have to address it on an individual level.
These glimpses inside Gore point to something important in An Inconvenient Truth: the film is as much about Gore as it is about global warming. In making himself the celebrity face of this cause, Gore has linked himself inextricably to global warming. At the same time, the audience is always aware of an inherent reserve about Gore—a desire not be too firmly planted in the center of the spotlight (Mr. Moore, are you paying attention?). Though it wouldn’t seem so at first, Gore fits the mold of a character type that is a recurring theme within many of this summer’s big blockbusters, including The DaVinci Code, X-Men: The Last Stand and Superman Returns: the reluctant hero.
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