Inconvenient Truth, An (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The problem with An Inconvenient Truth isn't the message; it's the messenger. If the film's goal is to educate and warn about Global Warming, why use one of the most divisive political figures of the last decade as the spokesman? I don't have a problem with Al Gore, but how many Republicans (and possibly even Independents) are going to be interested in spending 100 minutes listening to the ex-Vice President talking about Global Warming? Thus, instead of a wake-up call, this film - which is an excellent primer about the situation - turns into a sermon for the choir.

The documentary makes two additional missteps that hurt its credibility and will diminish its widespread acceptance. There are times when, via biographical snippets and personal reflections from its central figure, it seems to be more about Gore than Global Warming. And, despite what others have written, there is a clear, albeit subtle, political bias. When the film wants to illustrate the obtuseness of politicians concerning Global Warming, it uses sound bytes from several prominent men - all Republicans. Would it have been so hard to find an anti-Global Warming Democrat to strike a sense of balance? All this is fine - director Davis Guggenheim has a right to slant his film any way he wants to - but it limits the film's appeal and consumer base.

Content-wise, An Inconvenient Truth contains compelling information. It also avoids the polarization that often surrounds discussions of Global Warming. Like an anti-Conspiracy Theory movie, it debunks several of the myths perpetrated by those who ignore scientific data while not embracing the sky-is-falling hysteria embraced by some fringe believers. When it's not giving us glimpses into Al Gore's childhood or recapping the 2000 election, An Inconvenient Truth sticks to the science of the situation. There are charts and graphs and, perhaps most disturbingly, "before and after" pictures of glaciers as they were 30 years ago and as they are today. (It gives "shrinkage" a whole new meaning.) If the movie comes across as alarmist, that's because the situation is alarming, not because the filmmakers are employing hyperbole. As is pointed out, Global Warming is viewed within the scientific community as a fact, not a theory. It's only Big Business, with its desire to maximize profits (after all, it costs money to cut back the amount of carbon dioxide escaping into the atmosphere) that has tried to position Global Warming as a subject that is open to debate.

If you have studied the subject at any length, the film is not going to provide any new material. This is a well-packaged recap of known facts. If you accept that Global Warming is real and understand its implications, you can easily skip An Inconvenient Truth. If not, then this becomes an important film to consider. Although it deals with scientific realities, it couches its message in words and images that the layman can understand. There's only one instance in which it enters scientifically uncertain territory: trying to link Hurricane Katrina with Global Warming. Is it possible that there's a connection? Yes, but it's not proven, and the cyclical nature of hurricanes makes this a dubious argument.

v The film is inherently non-cinematic. It could almost be considered a "concert film" (although without the music - don't worry, Al Gore don't pretend he's on American Idol), since it's essentially a filmed version of one of Gore's well-known Global Warming slideshows. For about 90 minutes of the 100-minute running time, Gore talks to us (he doesn't lecture) about the subject, using a variety of slides (and even an animated cartoon) to make his point. It should be no surprise that the presentation is as polished as it is - Gore estimates he has given it more than 1000 times over a span of more than 20 years.

Despite its flaws and the familiarity of the material, I was engaged by the movie. The clarity and simplicity of the presentation is remarkable. Gore is a likable, confident, humorous speaker. And the material reminds us of the need for vigilance. If only a few viewers learn some things about Global Warming, then the movie has done a worthy job. However… Critics are constantly reminded to review the movie that exists, not the one that doesn't, but in the case of An Inconvenient Truth, the message is so important that I can't help but wonder if this doesn't constitute, on some level, a missed opportunity.

Inconvenient Truth, An (United States, 2006)

Director: Davis Guggenheim
Cast: Al Gore
Cinematography: Davis Guggenheim
Music: Michael Brook
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Classics
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2006-05-26
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1