The shadowy specter of 2000’s presidential election still hangs like a darkened cloud over Al Gore: It hovers ominously in the air as he deadpans to a gathered audience, “I used to be the next president of the United States.” It lingers in the memory of those congregated to watch their former candidate.

Phil Dokas

But six years after the electoral circus that turned hanging chads and the proud state of Florida into late-night TV punchlines, Al Gore finds himself stepping into the limelight again – not, as one might expect, for political resurrection, but rather as the courier of a dire message for this country and this planet. His wooden mannerisms are gone, his gait is easy, his tone fluent. And his point is unmistakable.

Global warming is real, and we must take action.

Appealing to a country long-since taught to doubt the phenomenon as a tree-hugger’s boogeyman, Gore takes great pains in the film to clarify the full and honest repercussions of our actions on the planet. He appeals to the scientific community, in complete agreement as to the reality of our current situation. He diagrams the science tidily in one very comprehensive PowerPoint presentation, complete with enough persuasive graphs and cute cartoons to make the viewer want to donate a day’s salary to the Sierra Club, walk home from the theater and buy a hybrid.

But though “An Inconvenient Truth” is startling in the potency of its message, it’s also more than just a slideshow spliced with high production shots of the Patagonia. Wisely, the filmmakers have broadened the scope to include Gore’s own struggle to warn the world, from his days in the Senate, through his first failed presidential bid – a race in which he tried to bring global warming into the national debate – to the heartbreaking loss in 2000 that effectively halted this nation’s progress on environmental responsibility. The filmmakers mark every hard step he’s taken to curb the ever-escalating disaster of global warming just to gawk at the indifference and derision with which his pleas have been met. It’s a stark reminder of how far people, both politicians and the public, will go to avoid the inconvenience of an inevitable truth.

With the mountain of evidence brought forth and the rationality of Gore’s warnings, watching President George H.W. Bush brush off environmental protection by prophesying an America up to its eyes in owls will give you some sense of his frustration. And seeing him walk from stage to stage repeating with a tireless conviction his plea to save our world is awe-inspiring.

Indeed, both as documentary and mass-marketing tool for Gore’s message, “Truth” owes much of its success to the newfound likeability of the former politician. Recapping his infamous loss, Gore’s sadness seems genuinely to radiate from a desire to help the country as opposed to any narcissistic ambition. Much has been made in the media of the “new Gore” – cracking good jokes, his Tennessee twang at near-dangerous frequencies and finally wearing those earth tones with real authority.

That’s all true, and it’s completely hollow.

He’s at his best here because without the pressure of politicking, Gore can finally work in ideals and principles. Here he is freed from the constraints of being inoffensive and discovers the confidence to be unaffectedly affable. Perhaps that explains why so many liberals have already lined up around the block (or outside the theater selling T-shirts at my screening) to campaign for his 2008 presidency. A heartening thought, until considering that his patriotic push at the end – attempting to stir fervor by pointing to America’s military greatness – rings like a sour note at the end of a revelatory symphony. Back to being a salesman, Gore is strangely ineffective.

But it’s not enough to block out the film’s extraordinary power. Solidly constructed and highly watchable as a conventional documentary, “Truth” is nonetheless a public announcement first. As the credits roll, viewers are urged to visit climatecrisis.net and compel their friends to see the film; it might seem pushy if it weren’t so urgently warranted. Global warming can no longer stand as a contentious political debate, but rather, as Gore suggests, a matter of morals to those with the courage to seek an inconvenient change.

Rating: Four out of five stars

An Inconvenient Truth
At the Michigan Theater
Paramount Classics

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