Screw everyone who hates An Inconvenient Truth sight-unseen because it features a former Democrat candidate for president discussing the imminent threat of global climate change. And screw everyone who loves it sight-unseen for the same reason. You are all the reason why it has become nearly impossible to separate cinema aesthetics from politics.
See, I have a dream of a 21st-century America where it’s possible to talk about pop culture without feeling obliged first to reveal your party registration. One could note that Michael Moore is a significant American filmmaker'but also kind of a clumsy one. Or perhaps one could argue that there’s nothing inherently wrong with movies that are “faith-basedâ€'just that so many of them are amateurish junk. And one could say such things without immediately being accused of being “pro-Bush” or “anti-Christian” because the accusers are too lazy to realize that there’s a difference between a message and the delivery system for that message. If you can’t imagine a bad movie about an idea with which you agree, or a good movie about an idea with which you disagree â€¦ well, your imagination needs some exercise. And also, you clearly never have seen Triumph of the Will.
Such elaborate preamble feels depressingly necessary when talking about An Inconvenient Truth, which has become headline news not because of what it is, but because of what it is about. Like The Da Vinci Code, it’s controversial, which makes for good copy. Unlike The Da Vinci Code, it’s also actually a compelling, interesting movie'and not because it takes the more liberal-leaning stance on the realities of climate change.
No, An Inconvenient Truth works because it’s a surprisingly effective showcase for Al Gore as a person. You remember Al Gore; as the man himself jokes, “I used to be the next president of the United States.” That was back when he was a caricature of the political stiff'smart, perhaps, but too bogged down in wonkish policy detail to connect with the average American. He was the guy of the robotic Macarena performance at the 1996 Democratic Convention, and the stern-faced debate appearances in 2000.
In Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, that Al Gore is gone, replaced by a funny, lively, engaging speaker, even when dealing with potentially catastrophic scenarios. And that’s crucial, because An Inconvenient Truth is essentially an Al Gore “concert filmâ€'a record of his traveling multimedia presentation addressing scientific evidence that the world is headed for a reckoning if we don’t stop talking about the weather and start doing something about it. Yes, for 100 minutes, you basically watch Al Gore talk'and not only does it not inspire a profound desire to sleep, it’s often riveting.
That’s because this Al Gore doesn’t just seem to be going through the motions. He knows when to fire up his audience with angry determination as he lays out the case for global warming, and he knows when to use a visual joke'employing a crane to bring him to the top of a precipitously ascending temperature graph'to get his point across. He even knows when not to overtalk his point and let jarring images of retreating glaciers do the work for him. Gore’s presentation is terrifically constructed, but he has to sell it'and he succeeds brilliantly.
He’s also starring in a movie that’s trying to sell Gore, and that’s where it can be a bit much to take. Guggenheim breaks up the stage-bound segments with folksy interstitial footage of Gore on the road or out in nature, shot in grainy black-and-white. Gore narrates over the top of them, telling stories about the life events that brought him to this place'including the same story of his sister’s death from cancer that he told at the 2000 Democratic Convention'and it’s hard not to see more than a smidgen of hagiography in Guggenheim’s approach. It’s undeniably serious stuff'in other words, exactly the image that the rest of the movie subverts so effectively.
Of course, it’s impossible to get past the reality that many viewers are going to embrace or dismiss An Inconvenient Truth along party lines. Conservative bloggers can continue hatin’ on Gore and the umpteen-hundred scientists he has on his side, though there’s a bitter irony to their allegations that he’s appealing to emotion and fear rather than hard facts. Here’s another irony: If America in 2000 had seen the Al Gore of An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore who can speak with both passion and hope, he might have been in a position to do more about this subject than deliver presentations.