For a film consisting mostly of a middle-aged guy pointing to charts and lecturing about complex, controversial, and world-challenging ideas, An Inconvenient Truth makes for a more entertaining thriller than a similar and much longer film, The Da Vinci Code. It also has the advantage of arguing a case that is authentic and terribly urgent. Nonetheless, it’s not likely to pull in $77 million in its opening weekend.
JUST THE FACTS: Gore’s chart-and-graph road show is as scary as United 93.
How could first-time director Davis Guggenheim have made a more audience-friendly and appealing package of Al Gore’s Global Warming road show? I think he’s done as much as he could, and then some, to tweak it without compromising its wonkish integrity. Ideally, Guggenheim might have attempted a Jonathan Demme approach to his subject, filming one complete stage performance with the minimum of stylistic gimcracks or extraneous material. On the other hand, Al Gore is no Spalding Gray or David Byrne when it comes to seizing the stage and enthralling an audience. Nor does the barrage of statistics genially recited by Gore and illustrated in countless charts, graphs, and photos raise the pulse rate, alarming though they may be.
Instead, Guggenheim has attempted to combine Gore’s campaign with his own personal drama, making him a protagonist bouncing back from the 2000 Presidential election (his introductory “I used to be the next President of the United States” gets less funny with repetition, but mostly because of the dismal reality of the person who “won”) to go door-to-door to preach his environmental message and save the world.
And so Truth begins with Gore reminiscing by a stream near his boyhood home in Tennessee, ominously noting how this Huck Finn splendor might some day no longer exist. Point well taken, but the segment comes off dangerously close to a Jack Handy “Deep Thoughts” moment. Likewise, the recurrent image of Gore looking pensively out of a car window en route to another podium in another city seems better suited for a 60-second campaign ad. Such lapses detract from a genuinely compelling story and some powerful moments such as Gore recalling in an abandoned tobacco shed at his family’s old plantation how his sister died a horrible death from cancer contracted from their own product.
Some, especially those already sympathetic to the subject, will find his story inspiring. Others will poach at it snidely, unfairly, and with ugly humor. It’s no surprise that few or none of the film’s debunkers have questioned its rigorously documented and utterly convincing contentions that global warming is a fact, that it threatens our existence, that human behavior has caused it, and that only a change in this behavior can curtail it. Most of the attacks on the film have been either ad hominem or nitpicking (was Gore actually driven 500 meters to the premiere of his film at Cannes, as Drudge reports? Is this how Republicans plan to redefine the issue?).
Harder for naysayers to dismiss is the substance of the slide show itself, which is dense (I lost a little patience with a graph measuring rainfall in southern Switzerland over the past 30 years), folksy, corny (leave the animation for Michael Moore), inventive, grave, funny, one-sided (hearing from the other side could only have strengthened the argument), and scary as hell. As scary as United 93, which nobody went to see. The difference is that this is a disaster that doesn’t have to happen.