For a man whose only crime was losing the most dubious U.S. presidential election in the nation’s 230-year history, Al Gore continues to inspire an amazing amount of contempt. Nixon-like, one might say.
To many Americans, he’s like a hangover, a skull-splitting reminder of democracy gone wild. Others scoff at his one-man environmental crusade, viewing it as some kind of sad attention-grab. (Count the “South Park” brain trust among the naysayers — in a recent episode, Gore goes into hysterics over an imaginary ogre known as the “Manbearpig.”)
Gore-haters would do well to take a look at “An Inconvenient Truth,” a tightly reasoned documentary based on Gore’s well-traveled slide-show lecture on global warming. Lucid and layman-friendly, the movie reveals the would-be commander in chief in a compelling new light: Loose, composed, convivial. At the very least, he looks and sounds much more presidential stumping for the environment than he ever did championing his bid for the presidency.
It begins somewhat alarmingly, with Gore waxing nostalgic about “rivers and trees and cows in the distance.” Oh, dear — one might think — is this it? A 90-minute Al Gore reverie? And me with no cyanide pills.
Thankfully, Gore and director Davis Guggenheim quickly cut to the meat of the issue. Lecturing to a live audience, Gore unleashes an avalanche of anecdotes, video clips, graphs and rock-solid facts and figures, all of it pointing to one sobering and ineluctable fact: The planet is ailing.
In cool and nonalarmist tones, Gore builds a case. Hopping onto a hydraulic lift, he illustrates how atmospheric carbon levels have figuratively gone through the roof in recent years, far surpassing anything in past millenniums and neatly rebutting the oft-repeated skeptic’s view that current warming trends are “cyclical.” Using computer-prediction models, he shows what will happen to the coastlines of Florida, Shanghai and San Francisco if ice caps continue to vanish over the next century. On a more micro-ecological scale, he demonstrates how bugaboo seasonal patterns are driving one particular bird species to extinction.
Gone is the peevish, ramrod-stiff Gore we remember from the presidential debates, with his eye-rolling and girlish exasperations. Aside from briefly taking the Bush administration to task for its Katrina failures, the performance is nonpartisan. His most withering remarks are aimed at global warming deniers, whose spin-doctoring he likens to that of tobacco companies in the 1950s after the surgeon general report.
It’s unfortunate — in a sense — that the environmental mantle wasn’t picked up by someone such as Bob Dole, who, unlike Gore, wouldn’t have to shout his message over the stigma of political opportunism. Gore may yet aspire to public office, and you might not like that, but for now he’s asking for something that no one has a right to deny him: A little vigilance.
>> Rated PG (thematic elements), 100 min. Grade: B+