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 V.16 No.35 | August 30 - September 5, 2007 

Film Review

The 11th Hour

Can Leo make ecology sexy?

“Hello, I’m Leonardo DiCaprio, and I’m here with my boyish, non-threatening good looks to talk to you about trees.”
“Hello, I’m Leonardo DiCaprio, and I’m here with my boyish, non-threatening good looks to talk to you about trees.”

The 11th Hour

Directed by Nadia Conners & Leila Conners Petersen

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio

We live in strange times. Suddenly, scientific understanding is subject to a system of belief. No one has seen fit to question their conviction in gravity (not yet, anyway), but things like evolution and global warming are apparently up in the air now. Since when did the laws of physics give a damn whether or not we believe in them? And yet, here we are in 2007 arguing whether or not melting polar ice caps are a sign of a collapsing ecosystem or the eminent return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the line, it seems, some retrograde neo-con decided to hammer an anti-science plank into the Republican party’s platform. Now all dyed-in-the-wool conservatives are obliged to believe with all their hearts that pollution in our air, toxic waste in our rivers, oil spills in our oceans and the denuding of our forests are perfectly fine for the environment. (Apparently, both the Amazon rain forest and Tinkerbell can be brought back to life if you just believe strongly enough.)

For better or worse, it’s fallen to a bunch of outspoken, left-wing, liberal moonbats in Hollywood to combat this propaganda. Among this new wave of celebrity tree-huggers is hunky Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio.

Talking Head No. 43 (non-DiCaprio variety)
Talking Head No. 43 (non-DiCaprio variety)

Picking up right where Al Gore left off, DiCaprio has produced an impassioned documentary about global warming titled The 11th Hour. The film is a well-argued treatise on the ecological state of our planet. As you can probably imagine, things aren’t going all that well.

Gathering a diverse collection of professors, environmentalists, scientists, journalists, politicians and big thinkers (more than 50 of them), the film discusses, in rather matter-of-fact terms, our place in the world and our effect on it. It’s an impressive selection. Among the big thinkers is Stephen Hawking; among the politicians, Mikhail Gorbachev. Each lays out a familiar scenario of doom and gloom for our planet. Among the most surprisingly well-informed and well-spoken is former CIA director James Woolsey. Time and again, the experts admit we don’t actually have the power to destroy the planet. But we do have the power to make life very, very bad for ourselves and our offspring. Honestly, the Earth can survive just about anything and really doesn’t care whether it’s populated by humans or cockroaches.

DiCaprio does step out of the producer’s chair to narrate the film, giving it a much-needed punch of star-power. Unfortunately, the still-boyish star just doesn’t have the gravitas of a George Clooney or an Alec Baldwin. He sounds a bit too chipper in his earnest-but-wordy warnings and, even at the age of 33, looks like he’s posing for the cover of Bop magazine. It doesn’t help that first-time filmmakers Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners direct everything in a numbingly conventional manner. The film is essentially one long string of talking heads, punctuated by the occasional Koyaanisqatsi-style montage of eco-disaster footage. The 11th Hour is the cinematic equivalent of a good talking to. It’s probably very beneficial for you, but it’s not all that much of a gas.

Which brings up the biggest problem with The 11th Hour. At whom is this aimed? Obviously, it was created to change hearts and minds, to give complacent populations a good poke in the ribs. But I’m afraid it’s another case of preaching to the converted. It would be great, for example, if Bill O’Reilly were to see this film, experience a major moment of clarity and start volunteering for Greenpeace. But that ain’t gonna happen. Bill is just going to use this as more ammo in his war against “liberal” Hollywood.

It’s probably not a stretch to say that the only ones watching this film will be those who have already worn out their DVD copies of An Inconvenient Truth. That’s a bummer; because in comparison, The 11th Hour suffers a bit. Gore’s film, structured as it was like a big PowerPoint lecture, was quite visual and easy to absorb. The 11th Hour is far more philosophical. This makes it, in a way, more abstract and less accessible. That’s bummer No. 2; because philosophically, The 11th Hour has a hell of a lot to say.

After laying out all its doom and gloom scenarios, the 11th Hour actually starts offering real solutions for saving our planet. By and large, the ideas are practical, viable and shockingly simple. This isn’t some collection of hippies arguing that we should all live in yurts and wipe our heinies with leaves. Rather, these very smart people (architects and designers among them) point out that virtually nothing needs to change visibly in our world. We can still drive fast cars, have our same houses and shop to our hearts’ content. But available technology could easily allow us to have more efficient engines, recycle-ready clothing, cheap and plentiful windpower, eco-friendly homes and more.

There’s no denying it: The 11th Hour is a terribly important film. I just wish it were a better film. Despite the participation of Leo, it’s just not sexy enough to attract the attention of people who could actually learn something from it. Those are the sad, sobering facts. ... Whether you believe them or not.

 
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