Ten years on from An Inconvenient Truth, environmentalist Al Gore travels the world, visiting the effects of global warming and taking an active role in the UN 2015 Climate Change Conference.
You can almost count the number of documentary franchises on one hand. From Michael Apted’s 7up series — the James Bond of documentary film — to Joshua Oppenheimer’s brace, The Act Of Killing and The Look Of Silence, few documentaries achieve the cut-through, both artistically and financially, to warrant a follow-up. So it says something about 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth that it earned, even demanded a sequel. Grossing $50 million at the worldwide box office and a Best Documentary Oscar, ex Vice President Al Gore’s call to arms put climate change into the cultural/political conversation in a way cinema — or little else — had done before. Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, replacing original director Davis Guggenheim, have created a thought-provoking, important but only patchily gripping sequel that — and this was a big ask — doesn’t achieve the urgency or impact of its progenitor.
A thought-provoking, important but only patchily gripping sequel.
A jauntier presence this time around, Gore jet-sets around the globe, visiting affected areas (melting Icelandic glaciers, flooded Miami streets), meeting politicians and business leaders whose corporate interests he argues are sabotaging his agenda, and imparting climate change training to wannabe green advocates. Here Truth To Power, like its predecessor, remains slide-showtastic. Charting what Gore dubs conditions from “the book of Revelation”, his talks PowerPoint up a bundle of frightening facts (14 of Earth’s hottest recorded years have been since 2001) and compelling imagery (the shoes of a woman visibly sticking to a hot road in India), and offers a telling benchmark ten years on: in the original film, an animated section imagined rising seas flooding the site of the World Trade Center; now Gore can ditch the pre-visualisations and show Super Storm Sandy running roughshod over Ground Zero. These early sections offer a number of potent points but lack shape and momentum, often biting off more than they can chew and skimming over important topics.
The film gets better when the story shifts to Paris in 2015. There are dramatic moments as Gore’s 24-hour climate change broadcast is disrupted by the terrorist attacks — he argues it was no coincidence — and the film gains added agency and suspense during the UN Climate Change Conference where Gore tries to undo India’s commitment to coal-fired power plants by wheeler-dealing on the price of solar-powered projects to make them more attractive. If the film overplays Gore’s hand in achieving the Paris agreement, his tenacity, intelligence and commitment to change is palpable.
Weirdly, it’s a film at once hopped up on hope — the astonishing results of solar power in Chile, a hard-line Republican mayor in Texas whose switch to renewable energy saves his constituents money — yet marinated in pessimism. Peppered throughout the film is footage of (then Presidential candidate) Trump’s denial of climate change realities, and the film sidelines Gore’s attempts to engage the retrograde President. He describes in voiceover his inability to turn world leaders around on fossil fuels as “a personal failure”, but there is something winning in his common-sense optimism. Fingers crossed America warms to his insightful positivity and makes a threequel — ‘An Inconvenient Truth And The Last Crusade’ — redundant.
Like many sequels, Truth To Power is bigger but messier than its predecessor. While it doesn’t quite deliver the oomph of the original, it is still a timely, persuasive wake-up call.