Before the Flood
Director - Fisher Stevens
Rating - 2.5/5
In all honesty, when was the last time you watched An Inconvenient Truth? When was the last time you found yourself switching channels, presumably on Earth Day, chancing upon An Inconvenient Truth, probably mid-graph, thinking ‘nah’, and moving along to more wholesome entertainment?
Let’s face it: No one wants to watch An Inconvenient Truth again – all this assuming, of course, that you’ve seen it once already.
There’s a reason Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim called their Oscar-winning documentary what they did. There is no truth more inconvenient than climate change. It was the case then, as it is the case now, a whole decade later, in Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary, his first film after winning an Oscar for The Revenant, called Before the Flood.
How we, as a collective species, respond to documentaries on climate change is precisely how we respond to climate change itself. You’ll watch An Inconvenient Truth once – perhaps out of some misplaced sense of guilt, or maybe because it’s a relatively popular film. You’ll watch Before the Flood because DiCaprio’s in it. But would you watch either of these films out of genuine concern for climate change? Be honest.
It is this apathy that these films aim to correct. And while An Inconvenient Truth was a masterful film that is more relevant now than ever, DiCaprio’s Before the Flood, aside from having the admittedly solid attraction of having his face in nearly every frame, does little to ignite, let alone sway the discussion in any pertinent direction.
As earnest as this film is, and as earnest as DiCaprio has always been about this very real, and very pressing issue, the filmmaking simply isn’t at par. For one thing, it is structured more like an educational documentary than a piece of moving cinema; the sort of film you would imagine is shown in classrooms in the future – either as a warning or as a reminder of exactly when it all went wrong. It aims to impart knowledge, and not, as should ideally have been the case, evoke emotion.
And this is surprising, considering especially that it is directed by Fisher Stevens, who produced the incredible Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove, about the ghastly dolphin hunting practices in Japan. It’s another thing however, that he also directed the 2013 Al Pacino, Christopher Walken geriatric crime comedy Stand Up Guys – which, if I remember correctly, involved one Viagra joke too many.
But all joking aside, try as hard as DiCaprio may, his efforts deserved a more passionate film. A film that should’ve hit them right in the gut, the Bill O’Reillys, the Sean Hannitys, the Marco Rubios and Ted Cruzes; all those Fox News faux newsmen, perpetrators of the greatest mass denial in the history of the planet since its shape was up for debate.
But it’s unlikely Before the Flood will score any converts, since it mostly preaches to the choir. The most surreal example of this happens when DiCaprio visits India and speaks to environmentalist Sunita Narain, who wastes no time in giving him a good telling off for being a citizen of the most irresponsible (in her view) nation in the World. This goes on for a good 5 minutes. Guys, if you ever read this – which, let’s face it, is more unlikely than us successfully avoiding the apocalypse – understand this: You’re on the same team. Stop arguing.
Instead of speaking with Elon Musk, President Obama, and the Pope – all of which sounds impressive – perhaps it would’ve been a better, more involving idea to present both sides of the argument, and let the viewer decide which one was the truth and which was lunacy. And unfortunately, as if to further cement my point, none of these noted individuals (all of whom agree with each other and what this film is saying, mind you) have nothing really to say that hasn’t already been said in a VICE documentary - links to which I’ll share down below in case you’re interested in exploring this further.
Before the Flood is a timely film. It is a valuable film. Maybe it shouldn’t be judged for how it is made. You should watch it anyway (especially since it’s available for free on YouTube). But it could’ve been the most important film of the year. It could’ve been the most important film of the decade, or of this generation. But it isn’t. And that’s tragic.