Film Review: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk check in with climate crusader Al Gore in this effective, if too loosely structured, doc.
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Ten years ago, Al Gore and director Davis Guggenheim kicked off widespread cultural awareness of climate change with their Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. From a purely cinematic perspective, it was nothing special. A filmed TED Talk from before there were TED Talks does not exactly the second coming of The Thin Blue Line make. Still, An Inconvenient Truth was an extremely effective call to action despite its stylistic limitations, paving the way for the dozens of climate-change docs that have been made since.

Dozens. And dozens. And dozens. And that’s the thing—it feels like just about every angle of climate change has been covered by filmmakers at this point, leading to a degree of fatigue. At a certain point the evidence that A) climate change is real and B) humans are causing it is so overwhelming that to ignore it is willful denial so obstinate that it’s unlikely to be overcome by a well-intentioned, preaching-to-the-choir documentary. Where, then, does Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power fit into this doc landscape? Does checking back in with climate crusader Gore ten years after his initial call to arms really give us anything new?

The answer is: Yes, with an asterisk. There are parts of An Inconvenient Sequel that work and parts that don’t. In the former group: stunning footage of the environmental fallout of global warming, among them glaciers cut through with rivulets of melted ice; a “rain bomb” pelting Tucson, Arizona; and desperate men and women tearing a hole in the ceiling to escape the rising water of Typhoon Haiyan, which caused unprecedented destruction in Southeast Asia in 2013. Such images are by no means untrammeled territory, but they’re effective at communicating the scale of climate change as well as its human cost.

Where An Inconvenient Sequel really comes together, though, is in its fly-on-the-wall reportage of Gore’s dealings at the 2015 Paris climate conference, which saw 195 countries adopt a landmark agreement to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. (A title card at the end of the film, added after its Sundance 2017 premiere, notes President Trump’s decision to pull the United States’ support.) We see Gore and his team react in real time to the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, which took place several weeks before the conference, when Gore was already in Paris drumming up support for climate-change initiatives. He negotiates with representatives from India, the key climate holdouts, as they argue that a move away from cheap coal unfairly penalizes developing nations. And, really, both sides have a point. Scientific consensus has made the reality of climate change relatively straightforward, but the issue of fixing it is still hellaciously complicated—something that An Inconvenient Sequel, with its unparalleled access to some of the key players, is uniquely positioned to address.

It’s in those Paris conference scenes that Gore, as a documentary subject, is shown at his best. He’s tireless in his dedication to fixing climate change. Though the obstacles he’s up against—not just the Indian opposition, but deep-pocketed lobbyists and lying politicians—seem at times insurmountable, he continues to charge forward. “I don’t know any other way to do it,” he says.

An Inconvenient Sequel shows us that Gore is impressive…which makes the scenes where it also tries to tell us he’s impressive a mite bit frustrating. There are conversations between Gore and other climate-change crusaders that, for lack of a better word, seem staged. Maybe they’re not…but the fact is that, for all Gore claims to be “recovering politician,” he still is a politician in all but name, willing to schmooze and adept at presenting his chosen causes in the best possible light. It lends a layer of inauthenticity to proceedings and causes pacing to lag. (Another culprit of that latter point: a detour into Gore’s reaction to the 2000 election fiasco. Didn’t we go over that in the first movie?) There’s enough good material here to make An Inconvenient Sequel a worthy addition to the climate-change doc sub-genre, but one wishes Cohen and Shenk would have focused on their strengths and tightened things up.

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