Film Review – The 11th Hour

The 11th Hour    2 stars
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mikhail Gorbachev, Paul Hawken, Stephen Hawking and William McDonough. Directed by Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners. Released by Warner Independent Pictures. Rated PG; 1:35.

    Nadia Conners and her sister Leila Conners Petersen have collaborated on a scolding, finger-wagging polemic that warns us yet again about the dangers of a warming biosphere. It is not exactly what one might consider an entertaining night at the cinema. It is, however, thorough, sobering, nicely photographed (when not relying on stock footage) and ultimately quite scary.

    Comparisons to Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim’s “An Inconvenient Truth” are both inevitable and appropriate. This film pitches a similar message with similarly mixed results. It’s the sort of message one really hates to hear, along the lines of “eat your vegetables” or “I sure hope you wore a condom.”
    Nevertheless, it constitutes a warning we all should heed.

    As with the Gore film, it’s the end that’s not very satisfying. With a topic so vitally important and in an environment where these sorts of documentaries are well received by the general viewing public, it is hard to explain this kind of near-miss.

    In its favor, “The 11th Hour” does attack the environmental breakdown issue from multiple angles, and it does address the question of whether it is too late to reverse warming. The answer is an optimistic “there’s still time.” And it’s not the sort of film to point fingers without suggesting solutions. That’s where the experts come in. These guys, like Gorbachev, Stephen Hawking and others, threaten to drag the spotlight away from the haloed visage of narrator Leo DiCaprio. Wind power, synthetic fuels, solar, geothermal and other still largely theoretical fixes become the true stars of the film in a way the directors probably did not intend.

    To be fair, it is refreshing that climate change is not the sole focus of this effort. Other potentially fatal environmental hazards — failing food quality, species extinction, resource depletion — are addressed in a thorough if haphazard manner. This is perhaps why by the film’s end, one feels that the gentle shower of talking heads has somehow morphed into a tropical depression.

    A few words about narrator/producer DiCaprio: Having his star power at hand for a project like this is certainly a boon to the filmmakers, at least at the box office. What Leo is not so good at is projecting gravitas, something a film like this absolutely demands, in resounding perpetuity. Instead we are presented with a celebrity of high wattage (whose heart is surely in the right place) but little heat.

    It’s an odd predicament for a movie about a planet going NOVA. DiCaprio’s Achilles’ heel is a strange characteristic he shares with our current Commander in Chief. Namely that his facial expressions are limited to two: the ingratiating, self-satisfied smirk; and the tortured but completely prefabricated grimace of empathetic suffering. Leo has the Clinton gig down cold; he feels your pain and maybe wants to ratchet it up a notch or two. One less charitable than myself might even accuse the young man of jumping on a very slow moving bandwagon.

    Leo doesn’t need to do that, though. He drives a Prius.