The terrifying documentary An Inconvenient Truth presents an aesthetic dilemma: Essentially a traveling PowerPoint presentation on global warming by former Vice President Al Gore, it isn't really much of a film—it lacks even the minor cinematic embellishments of comparable Spalding Gray monologue films like Swimming To Cambodia or Monster In A Box. As such, it seems better suited to classrooms than movie theaters, though any way its urgent message can be disseminated should be encouraged. Environmental concerns have always been Gore's passion, as outlined in his book Earth In The Balance and the lecture series he's been giving for years. Gore makes a compelling argument for global warming as the preeminent issue of our times, a great and urgent threat to our habitation of the planet, yet one that isn't really under serious discussion in Washington. The sky is falling, yet few have the will—much less the political courage—to do anything about it.
Though veteran TV director Davis Guggenheim throws in a few "candid," off-script interludes with Gore, most of An Inconvenient Truth simply films his polished lecture, with vivid support from state-of-the-art graphics. With a patient and steadily alarming accumulation of statistics and illustrations, Gore makes an indisputable case that mankind's industrial contributions to the atmosphere have created a greenhouse effect that has led (and will continue to lead) to global environmental catastrophe. As temperatures rise due to high carbon-dioxide levels, the entire ecosystem is affected, leading to wildfires and droughts, increases in devastating Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, and the melting of precious shelf ice in Greenland and Antarctica, which threatens to raise sea levels and wipe out coastal areas. In this context, natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina can't be written off as cruel anomalies; they're a warning sign of tragedies to come.
The first response to An Inconvenient Truth is horror. No matter how reliably genial and measured Gore's oratory style, no matter how much hope he dutifully tries to squeeze into the proceedings, it's hard to come away feeling anything but a prevailing sense of doom. The second response is outrage. How could the press and our leaders allow for the debate over global warming to center on the issue of whether it even exists? And why is the current administration so focused on terrorism when Mother Nature dishes out revenge with infinitely greater élan than Osama bin Laden? Quite apart from its environmental agenda, the film is a reminder that there's no space for substance in political discourse: A 30-second soundbite on global warming could easily be brushed off as tree-hugging rhetoric, but after 100 minutes of level-headed elaboration, it's chillingly undeniable.