If Al Gore had been as passionate and personable on the 2000 campaign trail as he is in the global-warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” he might be in his second presidential term now.
In this surprisingly entertaining film, director Davis Guggenheim has captured a side of Gore far different from the stiff political operator that came across in his eight years as vice president and his run for the White House.
Guggenheim follows Gore on his seemingly selfless crusade to educate the world that global warming is an imminent threat, interspersing interviews with long sequences capturing Gore’s elaborate traveling slide show on the issue.
The film is a magnificent primer on global warming and a tough-love commentary on how today’s energy gluttony could be endangering tomorrow.
Gore comes off as a wry, likable college professor, the sort whose classes you always looked forward to.
“I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States of America,” Gore tells an audience as he opens one of his presentations, then adds with feigned vexation after they titter with laughter: “I don’t find that particularly funny.”
To be sure, Gore is preaching a sermon, and he does take the occasional jab at business interests, the Bush administration and naysayers who remain noncommittal about whether global warming is real or simply a result of natural cycles. So he’s not entirely an apolitical saint doing what’s right by humanity.
Yet even skeptics who go in scornfully figuring Gore is serving his own self-interests may come away wondering, what’s in it for him? Gore has said he does not plan to seek office again and that spreading the word on global warming will be his main pursuit from now on.
In “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore comes across as a man without a personal agenda, following a cause for the greater good, whether you believe in it or not. Gore has believed since college in the 1960s, when he took a class from Roger Revelle, a pioneer in global-warming studies.
Gore lays out the science behind the notion that our fuel emissions act like an envelope, trapping heat in the atmosphere and causing glacial retreat, the melting of polar ice caps, increases in hurricane intensity and other climate changes.
The film includes footage of the devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans and images of melting glaciers, evaporating lakes and the vanishing snows of Mount Kilimanjaro. It shows what could happen if ice covering Greenland and Antarctica continues to melt — huge tracts of Florida flooded and the site of the World Trade Center Memorial under water. Other areas could be hit by drought and disease, while the world may have to cope with widespread relocation of refugees fleeing deluged coastlines.
To lighten up on the gloom and doom, Gore lets his presentation turn silly with a segment from the animated TV show “Futurama,” in which thuglike greenhouse gases beat up solar rays and leave their rotting corpses encircling the planet.
The scientific evidence Gore shares is alarming, but the film lays out steps to reverse the warming trend — a combination of conservation and new energy technology. All that’s lacking is the political will, Gore says.
Guggenheim maintains a blend of humor and humanism throughout as he intercuts between Gore’s lively lecture and three key events that shaped the man’s outlook today: An accident that nearly killed his young son, his sister’s death from lung cancer and the family guilt from its former occupation as tobacco growers, and his photo-finish loss to Bush in 2000.
The Gore that emerges has the aura of elder statesman, a man who’s left behind the free-for-all of politics and now focuses on the fate of the world rather than his own personal future.
Doubters may figure he’s angling for his environmental altruism to spur some expansive draft-Gore movement. Yet the quiet compassion the man exudes in “An Inconvenient Truth” makes it hard to doubt Gore’s sincerity.