Ultimately, An Inconvenient Truth is an outstanding educational tool, but it runs the risk of preaching to the choir. Im not sure to whom this picture is aimed. Smart environmentalists already know the facts about global warming. And the Republican rape-the-wilderness crowd wont care a whit about seeing the film. So the movie has to aim at the middle ground, but it isnt cinematic enough to crossover. Its like sitting in a classroom. And Professor Gore told me nothing about which I didnt already know.
Now, dont get me wrong, Gores information and revelations are concise and accessible. He puts on a superb slide show that includes archival footage, detailed charts and graphs, and engaging cartoons. The movie is best when it contrasts things sort of a before and after, e.g. what the Arctic polar ice cap looked like decades ago and what it looks like now. But there isnt enough of this. Gore does build a case for urgent action, but then he flunks his own class. The movie offers no solutions. Oh sure, as the credits role, titled information comes up telling people to reduce the wattage in their light bulbs, to buy energy efficient appliances, and to ride bicycles, but are these things really the answer? If the world is on the breaking point, I think theres a stronger solution than turning off the lights as you go from room-to-room. Gee Al, why dont we just go back to caveman days. Again, he ignores corporate culpability.
The movie is weakest when it goes off-point, which it does a few too many times. Crosscut with Gores lecture, are scenes of Gore at airports, in his hotel room, Gore in a car (no, not on a bicycle), all of which makes him seem like some kind of EcoMan hitting the road for the good of humankind. Two extended sequences, one involving Gores young son being hit by a car and the other involving his sisters death from cancer take the movie in directions that tend to dilute the message. To his credit, Gore does seem to hint that the boys accident led him (Gore) to value the precious nature of life. But his sisters death, tragic as it is, makes no sense in the context of the film, although it does allow Gore to lecture on cigarette smoking and show old photos of his daddys tobacco farm.
An Inconvenient Truth is a documentary with a point-of-view, but it has none of the in-your-face energy or sass of works by Michael Moore (Bowling For Columbine, Roger & Me, Fahrenheit 9/11) and Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me). And frankly, it has none of the emotional heft of March Of The Penguins. Its a good movie, but hardly a great one. Director Guggenheim lacks the visual sense to enliven Gores lecture. The film clocks in at a bit over 90 minutes. And by minute 70, you want a recess.
* * * A good movie should flow like a well-written poem. The poem can be angry or sweet, romantic or jaded, melodic or discordant. But it should flow. Few filmmakers understand this. One who does is Robert Altman.
I could write pages extolling the joys of his movies. And to omit some certainly wouldn't mean I don't like them. Maybe the sum of an Altman work isn't as good as the parts, but still, even mild Altman is worth watching.
At age 81, Altman is the grand old man of American filmmaking. Ranging from television series (e.g., "The Millionaire") to epic features ("Nashville"), he has been the guiding force behind more than 100 works. He's also written scripts and produced and even wrote the lyrics for songs. Some of the early TV shows aren't available for viewing, but all of his movies are. Like all great directors, he works against the grain of acceptable commercial movie standards. Altman ranks with such vital directors as Josef von Sternberg, Ernst Lubitsch, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, all of whom project a personal vision in their films. With a new heart (he's had a transplant), Altman is back in theaters with "A Prairie Home Companion." The movie takes its cue from the celebrated radio show created by the legendary, hugely popular folk artist Garrison Keillor, a man who understands the meaning and value of telling a tall tale. Like the great storytellers of old, Keillor has created a world with words and music that harkens back to what so many call "the good old days." When done right, nostalgia sells. Keillor is both a master salesman and a master showman.
With a screenplay by Keillor himself, the film version of "A Prairie Home Companion" is a background story about putting on a radio show, as well as a mystery about the future of that very same radio show. Altman and Keillor both think outside the box, and their movie is a wry dig at the soulless nature of corporate America. It's about a company that sees no harm in snuffing out a popular radio show, tearing down a beautifully restored theater, and tossing a few dozen hard-working people out into the street. The film is about the death of Keillor's show (which, in real-life, isn't really dead) and about the power an avenging angel can have if she (Virginia Madsen) decides some lives must end. Keillor himself plays a character called G.K. (complete with red socks and red sneakers) and Kevin Kline is the narrator in the guise of Guy Noir, a fixer -- so to speak -- for The Axeman (Tommy Lee Jones). He's a fellow who enjoys what Keillor does, but believes that corporate cutthroat policies are more important than anyone's listening pleasure or the beauty of a classic 1920s-style urban theater building (The Fitzgerald in St. Paul, Minn.).
Some of Keillor's actual co-stars and backstage people have large roles in the movie. And Altman has also cast his film with the valued likes of Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Maya Rudolph, L. Q. Jones and Lindsay Lohan. All acquit themselves superbly.
Altman doesn't disappoint when it comes to planting his personal stamp on the picture. Auteur doesn't even begin to describe the style he brings. The camera glides and and peeks. Sometimes it's like a boxer -- feinting and jabbing. Other times, it's like a fly on the wall, an ocular eavesdropper taking in everything. There's a glorious moment in a dressing room during a conversation among Streep, Tomlin and Lohan. The camera's focus pulls in and out concentrating specifically on the speaker as the actresses move about as they chatter away. If that kind of directorial talent makes you giddy with cinematic pleasure, good for you. As expected in an Altman film, the dialogue overlaps with abandon. And the dialogue is pure pleasure. There are gentle laughs and rollicking roars. And there doesn't seem to be a wasted word.
I'll leave you to see "A Prairie Home Companion" to discover its delightful secrets. Does the show go on? How cynical is America becoming? Is the past really better than the future? I, for one, am grateful Robert Altman is around to answer these questions. By Michael Calleri
ALTPRESS Online Movie Editor
The reality of election politics being what they are, in the 2000 contest for chief executive of the good old U.S.A., Al Gore received more votes than George W. Bush, but the latter was anointed President Of The United States. Im sure we dont have to flog that horse again. But the next time someone tells you your vote doesnt count, consider the kids in Iraq getting their legs blown off.
Watching Gore in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth is like watching a friendly uncle. Hes funny, hes charming, he tells a scary story. You gotta like this uncle. Gores crusade to raise awareness about global warming is an admirable thing. But it begs the question: oh Al, you were vice-president for 8 years. What the heck were you doing then?