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Review: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017)

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017)

Directed by: Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk

Premise: A sequel to the climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Picking up ten years after the first film, former Vice President Al Gore provides an update on the climate conditions and participates in the 2015 Paris Climate Summit.

What Works: As a work of cinema, An Inconvenient Sequel is much better than its predecessor. An Inconvenient Truth was widely lauded and had some very important information to share but it wasn’t an especially accomplished piece of film. The 2006 picture was a feature length TED Talk; it primarily consisted of Al Gore delivering a lecture illustrated by some occasionally shoddy graphics. An Inconvenient Sequel is much more cinematic. That’s evident from the opening scene onward which effectively juxtaposes visuals of melting glacial ice with audio of political opposition dismissing the 2006 movie. Filmmakers Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk take Gore out of the lecture hall and into places that have been impacted by climate change such as barren glacial plains and flooded streets. As a sequel, the new film recaps some of the claims made in An Inconvenient Truth and shows how they have been borne out over the past decade. The best part of An Inconvenient Sequel goes behind the scenes of the 2015 Paris Climate Summit. As depicted in the film, Gore was active in the negotiations, particularly with India which has a need for new sources of electricity and was reluctant to sign onto an agreement that would curtail the country’s ability to build new coal plants. This section of the movie is dramatically engaging while also capturing the interplay of political, economic, and ecological concerns. Just before the summit, Islamic terrorists launched an attack across Paris and the filmmakers connect climate change to economic and political instability that yields mass migration and violent conflict. By connecting climate change with the various challenges facing the world, this film neatly pulls together the interconnectedness of peoples and nations. Like its predecessor, An Inconvenient Sequel takes a depressing subject matter and frames it in a way that isn’t a downer. Gore and the filmmakers intend to inspire hope in the audience and they mostly accomplish that.

What Doesn’t: The subtitle of An Inconvenient Sequel is Truth to Power. The film never really lives up to that title and it is in many respects a missed opportunity. In the course of the movie, Al Gore admits that the political momentum following the 2006 movie was largely squandered and that, the Paris agreement notwithstanding, little progress has actually been made in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The film does not explain why that happened or what should have been done. The missed opportunity of An Inconvenient Sequel is especially acute given that the movie has been released at a time when those in power, at least in the United States, are hostile to renewable energy and have deliberately spread misinformation about climate change. The movie never digs into who those powers are, what they are doing wrong, and how to challenge them. Instead, An Inconvenient Sequel repeats a lot of the familiar material from the 2006 picture. This time around the revelations aren’t as shocking. That’s another of the respects in which this film is a missed opportunity— An Inconvenient Sequel is unlikely to reach the unconverted. That’s partly a result of the politically polarized audience this documentary has been released to. Climate change is a political issue, even if it shouldn’t be, and viewers who have already accepted the facts won’t find anything new in this movie. Meanwhile, An Inconvenient Sequel is unlikely to reach viewers who still resist the reality of climate change.

Bottom Line: An Inconvenient Sequel is a better made movie than its predecessor but it is unlikely to have the same impact. It’s a fine documentary but it’s little more than an addendum to the 2006 film and it doesn’t tell informed viewers anything that they didn’t already know.  

Episode: #662 (August 27, 2017)