Wednesday, February 14, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

American politics is a strange business, as those fortunate enough to catch 'The Daily Show' on a regular basis will attest to all too readily. Although the contentious U.S. presidential election of 2000 may have affirmed this to a global audience, surely no-one can have felt the effect of this 'democratic' process more keenly than the man on the losing side of the result, Al Gore. Now, put aside pregnant chads, political preferences and opinions of Dubya for a moment. On a basic human level, that's got to hurt. To finish in second place in a political process does not often elicit rewards, but to end up the loser in such a manner, that's going to have a profound effect on your worldview.

An Inconvenient Truth is part environmental lecture, and partly a biographical account of Al Gore's life: the man who was 'once the next president of the United States'. The intention of the biographical elements is to weave together the evolution of the man with the evolution of his mission to deliver this message both before and after that electoral defeat in 2000.

For me, at least, this device works. Gore narrates, describing certain pivotal moments in his life and how they affected him, including his time spent working on his father's tobacco farm as a youngster. These accounts climax with un-narrated press coverage of the 2000 election, and when the narration subsequently resumes, Gore simply describes what he did next. The objective is to reinforce his motivation to travel the world and deliver this 'slideshow' (as he calls it).

When he mentions the fact that he has delivered the presentation over a thousand times, and retraces his movements across the globe, the film is at it's most convincing, and all these moments take place outside the context of the presentation proper. Gore's intention is quite simple: if American citizens - constituents - have the environmental issue on the tip of their tongues, then aspiring politicians will have to react, and tackle the issue. By continually delivering the message to people and convincing one small group at a time, perhaps public opinion on the matter will gradually change. The film itself is just an extension of that, a medium capable of delivering the same presentation in many locations and to many audiences simultaneously, without Gore's physical presence being required.

As to the presentation itself, it is almost completely apolitical, with a tone more akin to a scientific presentation, interspersed with occasional moments of light relief, such as a Matt Groening cartoon. Gore presents research from scientists working in all corners of the globe, reinforcing and giving meaning to the phrase 'global warming' in such a way that the audience remembers why this is actually a pretty serious problem. The message builds slowly to a crescendo, and is extremely well-honed and polished. At times it is revelatory and even shocking, but it is not entirely pessimistic. The message we are left with is that, sure, things are bad at the moment, and, ok, they're getting worse right now, but we have the means at our disposal to solve the problem. The only thing that is lacking - in the United States at least - is political will.

In political terms once again, I can only speculate as to how a die-hard Republican would react to 'An Inconvenient Truth', but as Al Gore presented his slideshow principally in universities on his transamerican whistle-stop tour, I can only wonder if he was primarily 'preaching to the converted'. A Republican counter-argument to this movie could be that Gore is simply promoting himself.. why else does a movie about global warming contain auto-biographical segments? Isn't he just a politician cynically trying to gain a platform for re-election?

In all honesty, I don't believe this to be true. The biographical sections work in tandem with the 'green' message, and reinforce the slideshow's salient points. We don't get to know Al Gore's politics any better through the movie, we just gain a deeper understanding of how convinced he is that he is absolutely right on this environmental issue. His presentation is based on facts, but the autobiographical sections commingle with the scientific details to convince you that this man believes what he is saying. This is ultimately where the movie gains added resonance and credibility.

For me, the message of the slideshow is well delivered. Al Gore is not exactly the gregarious extrovert, but his delivery is coolly efficient. Also, the global warming message isn't new, but 'An Inconvenient Truth' succeeds in startling the audience into understanding the real urgency of tackling the problem on a global scale. It might be an old news topic, but the evidence Gore presents is recent, and hits alarmingly close to home at times.

But, lets get back to basics here: as a piece of movie entertainment, how does it hold up? Well, if we judge it as a documentary, then it holds up very well, but 'Bad Boys II' it certainly ain't. (Thank jabus for that - Ed). In all honesty, you could do a lot worse than renting 'An Inconvenient Truth'. It may surprise you, it was certainly a lot better than I expected it to be.

The verdict: Packed with Gore, and shocking in parts, but a very strong message, well-delivered. Better than PCMR thought it was going to be.
The rating: 7/10

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