Review: ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’
In the decade since “An Inconvenient Truth” won an Oscar and thrust climate change into the mainstream, a cottage industry of global warming media has emerged — including a slew of documentaries and polemics showing us just how bad the effects of global warming are and how much worse they’ll get if we don’t take drastic action.
Everybody by now knows the basics and the scientific consensus on human-caused warming. So, while the watershed film that started it all expanded Gore’s iconic slideshow explaining the causes of climate change and its threat to life on Earth, the new sequel — “An Inconvenient Sequel,” in theaters today — is about Gore himself and his mission to save the planet.
It’s a powerful piece of work, made by the outstanding filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (“The Island President”) with astounding access to Gore’s backroom diplomacy around the world.
But its effectiveness and relevance fall victim to the film’s unfortunate timing. It follows Gore mostly through 2015 and before the inconvenient election of 2016. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, just after President Trump’s inauguration and just before Trump announced his plan to withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Cohen and Shenk re-cut the film for its summer theatrical release, sprinkling in some Trump and adding an emotional coda from Gore. Yet most of “An Inconvenient Sequel” speaks to a pre-Trump era and an (unfortunately) alternate reality where the U.S. is the global leader on combating climate change.
The centerpiece of the film is an enthralling section about Gore’s backchannel communications during the 2015 Paris climate talks. With seemingly unfettered access and working in a cinema verite style, Cohen and Shenk exhilaratingly document how Gore helped convince India to sign onto the agreement. They also deftly portray the developing nation’s point of view and its desire to jumpstart its economy on fossil fuels and dirty coal power just as the U.S. did for 150 years. It plays out like a thriller, and is worth the price of admission.
Yet it’s heartbreaking to know that Gore’s work will soon be undone by a climate denier in the Oval Office.
Throughout the new film, we see Gore as a globe-trotting crusader adding the latest current events to his slideshow — inserting fresh flood and fire footage from the day’s news before taking stages around the world. Gore also walks on melting glaciers and wades through the streets of Miami, comforts flood victims and confronts world leaders, challenging them to take action (the film’s full title is “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”).
“An Inconvenient Sequel” includes jaw-dropping imagery from the front lines of climate change: we see ice sheets in Greenland exploding, horrific flooding in the Philippines, a “rain bomb” falling on a U.S. city. Gore is our tour guide through the ongoing apocalypse on a warming planet. He shares terrifying statistics, like the fact that 14 out of the 15 hottest years in recorded history have been since 2001.
But rather than dwelling on cataclysms, it looks mostly at solutions big and small. Local and state governments and the private sector are taking action to carry out the clean energy revolution that Gore helped start. The film name-checks Aspen and other towns that have gone to 100 percent renewable energy and follows Gore to Georgetown, Texas — “the reddest city in the reddest county in Texas,” according to its mayor — which has done the same.
In one of its most powerful segments, Gore talks about how “the most criticized scene” in the original film was one predicting that rising sea levels and more powerful storms would flood Manhattan and the 9/11 Memorial downtown. Gore was correct, of course, and it did flood in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy. He’s been right about climate change all along. And he’s made nearly every citizen of the world listen. If only, viewers will wish, the leader of the free world was one of them.
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