wed 08/07/2020

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power review - Al Gore's urgent update | reviews, news & interviews

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power review - Al Gore's urgent update

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power review - Al Gore's urgent update

Back on the road with his stirring environmental road show, Gore doesn't expect Donald Trump to gatecrash his party

Al Gore: 'no doubting the sincerity and passion of the man'

When An Inconvenient Truth won the best documentary Oscar 10 years ago, the film’s success marked two significant events: a positive turning point in the campaign to avert environmental catastrophe; and the resurrection of the public career of Al Gore, after his presidential defeat at the hands of George W Bush. It also happened to be a very good documentary.

That first film galvanised both debate and action related to climate change. The aim of the cutely titled second has a textbook campaigning duality: to trumpet the efforts and successes of the past decade, while reminding Gore’s growing band of international activists that the problem is getting worse and therefore their work is far from over.

The result is another disturbing, powerfully expressed demonstration of nature making itself heard, accompanied by an optimistic message about the fight-back – epitomised by the film’s climax at the Paris Climate talks in 2015, in which Gore is seen to play a key role in an extremely positive conclusion. 

The unprepossessing man with the cataclysmic message remains compelling But Gore and his collaborators don't get it all their own way. Through no fault of their own – a documentary has to call "cut" at some point – the film has been overtaken by events. The day after An Inconvenient Sequel premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January this year, Donald Trump was inaugurated as President; four months later he withdrew the US from that very same Paris Accord.

So while the shadow of Bush hangs over the first film (a reminder of the role Gore could have had) the larger, crasser and perhaps even more dangerous shadow of Trump looms heavily over this; though Bush was intended, nay factored into the narrative, Trump has simply gatecrashed the party.

That’s not to say that this doesn’t make for engrossing viewing. The director of An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim, took the daring and ultimately successful gamble of shaping his film around a man and his power point presentation; more precisely, Gore’s global touring lecture on the causes, effects and future consequences of climate change were it to go unchecked. The new film, co-directed by Bonny Cohen and Jon Shank, only slightly tweaks the format, and for large periods the unprepossessing man with the cataclysmic message remains compelling.

The indefatigable Gore is still on the road, this time addressing the climate leadership training classes that he’s established all over the world to further the campaign. He’s again presenting his rigorously researched and dynamically presented statistics, the satellite images of the changing planet, and shocking video of the devastation climate change is already causing – from calamitous drought in Syria, to the terrible 2014 cyclone in the Philippines, to flooding and “rain bombs” in the US.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to PowerBut Gore goes further here, in investigating a double whammy for the world – while the natural disasters are getting worse, the human forces against environmental control have “regrouped”. His thesis is that the climate crisis is also a crisis of democracy, “hacked by big money,” notably the fossil fuel companies which are using their lobbying clout to undermine the environmentalists and the fledging renewable energy industries.

One of Gore’s own, treasured initiatives provides a sterling example of how politics can make or break progress: a satellite he proposed and developed while vice-president, which would track the Earth’s environmental changes from orbit and provide invaluable data, was scrapped before launch by his nemesis, Bush, but then brought back on stream by Obama. It’s now in orbit, though no doubt Trump has his eyes on the self-destruct button.

The sharp end of campaigning is also much in evidence, particularly as the cameras follow Gore’s attempts to coax India’s government towards renewable energy, despite their belief that fossil fuel is the key to the country’s economic as well as energy needs. While some may cynically dismiss Gore’s presence at the heart of these films as self-aggrandising, there’s no doubting the sincerity and passion of the man, who if anything is even more impressive this time around. When he sees the campaign’s setbacks as personal failures, it’s not a sign of egotism but commitment.

What a shame that Trump, as he does for so many in so many walks of life, takes the energy out of the room. Trump’s wholly unhelpful views on the environment as a mere citizen are touched on naturally as the film’s narrative brings us up to speed on the past 10 years – including his call in 2010 that Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change be taken from him. But his election victory was almost certainly unanticipated by the filmmakers, and his immediate move against climate control can only be acknowledged here with a tagged-on postscript that feels hasty and inadequate.

The good news for Gore as an environmentalist is that the president may not be around long enough to cause lasting damage; but the film's impetus and intended triumphalism are certainly dealt a blow. You might say it’s a tad inconvenient.


While the natural disasters are getting worse, the human forces against environmental control have regrouped


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters