There are two things wrong with the title of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s follow-up to the 2006 Al Gore climate-change doc. One, the moniker’s silly first half lacks the original’s gravitas — though this fine film is a match for the first — and will inspire eye-rolling among the unconverted. More important, its second half suggests the doc will address a question that surely keeps Gore, and millions of people worldwide, up at night: What happens when the powerful — for instance, the man who will be America’s president hours from this writing — have heard the truth plenty and just don’t give a damn?
The movie, in which Shenk and Cohen (makers of the standout eco-doc The Island President) take the reins ably from Davis Guggenheim, hardly can hope to create the sensation of its Oscar-winning predecessor. But it finds plenty to add, both in cementing the urgency of Gore’s message and in finding cause for hope. Largely, it watches the man in action: leading “climate leadership training” sessions with hundreds of eco-evangelists; visiting researchers to see warming in action; hammering out deals with those who understand the facts but believe they still need fossil fuels to survive.
A fine look at what has and hasn’t changed since Davis Guggenheim’s Oscar-winning film.
Gore still is giving that famous slide show we saw in An Inconvenient Truth, continuing to add data to answer his critics. Such as this fun tidbit: 14 of Earth’s 15 hottest years in recorded history have been since 2001. He now can show skeptics the routine flooding in Miami Beach, or the increasingly violent weather caused when warming oceans pump more and more moisture into the atmosphere. Naysayers mocked a scientific projection he used in the first film, showing rising seas flooding the site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan — now Gore can ditch the animation and show footage of Super Storm Sandy doing just that.
That’s about as explicit as he gets here in responding to right-wing attacks on the first film (and the doc completely ignores attacks on Gore personally). But he addresses climate deniers more generally, arguing that we need to “fix the democracy crisis,” in which decision-making has been “hacked” by corporate interests. He admits in voiceover to sometimes, over the years, feeling it “was a personal failure on my part” that the world’s leaders were not yet taking action to wean their nations off of fossil fuels.
An Inconvenient Sequel devotes much of its running time to behind-the-scenes action at the UN’s 2015 Climate Change Conference, where some viewers may suspect it gives Gore an undue share of credit for the Paris Agreement. Having determined that India’s plans to build hundreds of new coal-fired power plants — possibly counteracting all the renewable-energy growth elsewhere — had much to do with the expense of financing solar-power projects, Gore spent hours on the phone wheeling and dealing. We see him talk with friends at the California-based SolarCity, asking execs to give away some of their technology to make solar power attractive in India. Details are sketchy, but we walk away with the impression that this was the turning point in getting India to sign the accord.
Gore has many exciting things to report when it comes to wind and solar power — like the mind-boggling increase in solar projects in Chile during the past few years. Perhaps more amazing is the news that Georgetown, Texas, “the reddest city in the reddest county” in that red state, is about to get 100 percent of its energy from wind and solar. Scenes in which Gore gets chummy with Mayor Dale Ross, a conservative Republican with a CPA’s understanding of dollars-and-cents energy conservation, are downright heartwarming.
Less hopeful is the movie’s handling of Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax repeatedly. We see him on TV from time to time, as when, during the Paris conference, he complains that President Obama should pay attention to more serious matters than the climate. But when Trump is elected, and Gore visits Trump Tower for that well-publicized meeting, the movie gets nothing from its star about his approach to the president-to-be.
Quite possibly, Gore thinks talking at this point would jeopardize any influence he might have in the soon-to-be gold-plated Oval Office. But this is one area in which the movie cannot inspire hope for the future.
Production company: Actual Films
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Directors: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Producers: Richard Berge, Diane Weyermann
Executive Producers: Scott Z. Burns, Lesley Chilcott, Davis Guggenheim, Laurie David, Jeff Skoll
Director of Photography: Jon Shenk
Editors: Don Bernier, Colin Nusbaum
Composer: Jeff Beal
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Doc Premieres)