Eugene Weekly : Movies : 9.13.07


Leo Goes Green
Sluggish and thuggish doesn’t make us pay attention

THE 11TH HOUR: Written and directed by Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners. Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, Leila Conners Petersen, Chuck Castleberry and Brian Gerber. Music, Jean-Pascal Beintus, Eric Avery. Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. Warner Independent Pictures, 2007. PG. 91 minutes.

A Year and change after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, along comes that film’s kid brother — spunky, nicely animated, boasting a well-intentioned screen star and a hip soundtrack. The 11th Hour is produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, which, though he’s not the film’s director or writer (both those jobs are shared by Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners), makes it seem like it’s Leo’s film. Earnest and solemn, DiCaprio crops up every so often between interviews with talking heads, stock footage of disasters and beautifully filmed landscapes from around the globe. He occasionally has some rough lines to trip through, but he holds up, stolid, strangely drained of charisma.

A lack of charisma seems to pervade this film, which, with its vital message, is tough to be down on in theory but, in actuality, easy to dislike or be indifferent to. The problems begin at the start: A heavy-handed montage, cut like a horror film into speedy slices and slivers, leaps from hurricanes to fires to oil rigs to fetuses in the womb to sludgy rivers to industrial meat processing. Media-savvy eyes will tire of this before the filmmakers do: We have seen the images before, and seeing them put together like this just takes away their individual power. The result is effectively distressing, yet it feels uncomfortably manipulative — not an auspicious start.

The 11th Hour‘s thesis statement is simple: We are the problem, and we are the solution; we cannot separate ourselves from the nature we’re rapidly destroying. The world will go on, with or without us. It’s a sobering statement and one we hear in varying forms from the movie’s many intelligent, articulate experts, including Stephen Hawking, Mikhail Gorbachev and many less-recognizable but highly credentialed names. Clever animations illustrate key principles, and some of the film’s footage is striking. But I found myself distracted at points by the soundtrack, which leans heavily on gorgeous, lush, dynamic music from Iceland’s Sigur Rós and Scotland’s Mogwai, among others. On the one hand, it’s lovely to hear some good music in a documentary. On the other, it’s almost cheating: You could play Sigur Rós over footage of me walking home from work, and suddenly my walk would become epic and fraught with meaning. This is music that can make a person weep without any visual accompaniment. A little bit goes a long way; this amount gives The 11th Hour too much emotional baggage, distracting from the central theme.

And what of that theme? The 11th Hour is a film that will only succeed in disseminating its message if it’s seen by the people least likely to see it. It is full of useful, factual, oft-repeated information about what’s happening to the planet, and at its close, it does offer some much appreciated suggestions about green building and green living without devolving into a how-to handbook. But the filmmakers want to include everything that’s going wrong, from the fate of the Arctic to the horrible decimation of the ocean’s fish to the rise of asthma in schoolchildren, and while they clearly mean well, their film needs more focus. We know we’re on the brink, and we’re pretty certain about how we got there. But those among us who haven’t been paying attention are not likely to begin with this film even if it does star that boy from Titanic. If it really is the eleventh hour — and it sure feels like it — the time for explaining how we got here is past. The 11th Hour, then, is an effective but overly familiar reminder that it’s time to focus on what we do now.

The 11th Hour opens Friday, Sept. 14, at the Bijou.