Inconvenient Sequel an Important Message Imperfectly Delivered

Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk
Paramount Pictures, 99 minutes, PG

This recent documentary on climate change is the update of former Vice President Al Gore’s 2006 An Inconvenient Truth. As everyone knows, Gore came out on the short end of the disputed 2000 presidential election. Were it not for the fact that Gore’s overthrow led to the inept presidency of George W. Bush, one might conclude that losing the White House was the best thing that ever happened to Gore. As the leader on the front lines on the dangers of climate change Gore is everything he was not as an elected official: passionate, warm, funny and, above all else, convincing. It’s always tempting to list Gore with Jimmy Carter—failed pols whose lives outside of the Beltway are more admirable than when they held elected office.

Gore has also become the bette noire of climate change deniers. Critics have tried two strategies to silence Gore. One pegs him a modern-day Cassandra sounding warnings of doom that are not even real, let alone pending. Another group casts him as Pollyana—a tree-hugging liberal with stars in his eyes. Both ultimately fail because Gore has science on his side. If you want a analogy, view Gore as the Neil deGrasse Tyson of environmentalism—a science geek with the gift of making complex concepts intelligible to those without STEM degrees.

Gore, of course, has another advantage working for him. He has walked the corridors of power and has far easier access to places where change can foment: the United Nations, global conferences, even small-town council meetings. One of the film’s more poignant moments sees Gore in Georgetown, Texas to praise its shift to relying on 100% renewable energy sources. We see Gore rubbing elbows and trading jokes with Mayor Dale Ross, who is the very essence of a good ‘ole boy—a rotund, plain-spoken, glad-handing conservative Republican. Take a moment to appreciate the significance of a Republican town smack dab in the middle of oil-crazy Texas turning its back on fossil fuel. This scene is also another measure of how comfortable Gore has become in his new skin. Now that he’s been freed from the purification of party politics, he can make connections on a personal level and build bridges that cross conventional boundaries.    

Gore easily slides back into the statesman/hard ball politics when he must. In the film we watch as he negotiates a last-moment deal that could have scuttled the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. Developing nations spearheaded by India were reluctant to cut carbon emissions in the belief that their efforts to modernize would be stalled; some even saw it as a plot by Western nations to hold onto their global economic dominance (and they’re probably right to suspect that). We watch as Gore and his team pulled a rabbit out the hat by convincing SolarCity to advance zero-emissions technology to India in exchange for its signature on the treay. A critique: The film did not reveal that Gore has financial interests in SolarCity.

Kudos to Gore for his efforts. Kudos also for setting up activist training sessions on his Tennessee farm and his recognition that his farm’s fate, like that of a medium-sized town in Texas, is inextricably connected to melting ice in Antarctica of poisonous air over Mumbai.

As a reviewer, though, it’s my duty to say that this film isn’t a patch on An Inconvenient Truth. The directors abandoned the illustrated lecture format of the original in an atteot to humanize and personalize the film. Big mistake---and one reflected in the huge drop off at the box office from 2006. Too much time is spent watching Gore working the phones, riding in a limo (ooops!), hugging supporters, shaking hands with celebrities (including Justin Trudeau), or walking onto stages to thunderous applause. It’s almost as if the directors don’t trust the science to carry the message and want us to identify with Gore’s passion rather than the data, A times an Inconvenient Sequel strays into th excesses of some of Michael Moore’s film. Put simply, there’s too much of Gore on the screen, often doing very little to build any sort of dramatic tension. Overall, the fillmaking is pretty weak and this, sadly, diminishes what Gore has accomplished. Or should I say the network he has built? Charisma is a double-edged sword; on one hand it adds gravitas to cause, but its flip side distracts our gaze. I suspect that’s the last thing Gore would wish, even if he might enjoy having his ego stoked from time to time.

The film ends on an ominous note: the ascension of the dangerous Donald Trump. Trump has already done great damage and he simply doesn’t give a damn about the planet. What cares he, an amoral 71-year-old billionaire, about the future? Burning carbon inflates his portfolio like a force-fed hog.Now more than ever we must trust science. Not demagogues—an unaffordable luxury. I’m lukewarm about this film, but alas our planet is white hot. We need to listen to Al Gore now. If there’s An Inconvenient Truth III, chances are it will arrive too late.

Rob Weir

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