Environmental Disaster

The inconvenient truth: Leo's charisma is an endangered species.

The 11th Hour Leonardo DiCaprio Al Gore environmental docs Directed by Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Petersen; Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio; Rated PG; 91 minutes; Opens Friday
Leo was better crashing into icebergs than he is bemoaning melting ones.
Leo was better crashing into icebergs than he is bemoaning melting ones.
Leonardo DiCaprio wants you to know that we're in serious trouble. No amount of artful chin stubble, it seems, will reverse the depletion of fossil fuels or help to slow population growth. Not even three Oscar nominations will save you -- without an actual statuette, there's nothing to wedge under the door when the coastal flood waters inevitably start a-risin'. No, my friends, the time has come for serious action, and that means traveling to various picturesquely doomed locations to make direct-to-camera entreaties, not unlike those Sally Struthers famine-relief PSAs.

The 11th Hour is a cautionary eco-doc so earnest it should have been previewed in fourth-period social studies; it might as well have borrowed the title of Lisa Simpson's Lake Springfield pollution lecture: "An Irritating Truth." DiCaprio's bona fides as an environmentalist are beyond reproach -- he launched his own foundation in 1998, immediately after Titanic made him an icon -- and it's not his fault that the American public prefers its spinach served by the most glamorous waiters available. But good intentions and strapping deltoids aren't a license to hector, and DiCaprio's presence in this film (he also helped produce) is so dourly humorless that Al Gore looks charismatic by comparison. Judging from his constant expression of grim discomfort, Leo is reluctant to consume more oxygen than is strictly necessary.

Even if you were in the mood to be lectured by stodgy Professor DiCaprio, you'd want the courtesy of a startling, thought-provoking thesis. Or you'd at least want to be presented with a handful of facts that you didn't already know. Or maybe, at the least, you'd demand an innovative retelling of the basic, woe-is-us tale you do already know. Instead, The 11th Hour assumes you have no idea that the rain forests are shrinking, the Arctic ice shelves collapsing, the oil reserves dwindling. The film offers nothing more than a litany of pamphlet-ready factoids, unencumbered by the anecdotal wit that made Gore's stats halfway palatable onscreen.

Dazzling style can redeem even the creakiest, most pointless material. But directors Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Petersen -- whose previous film experience is limited to eco-shorts made for DiCaprio's website -- proceed as if the recent documentary revolution never happened. In time-honored PBS-snooze fashion, they assemble a squadron of learned talking heads, sit each one down in undistractable blackness, and let them burble about their specialty. Superimposed credentials sprout like fungi: Professor of Conservation Ecology, Duke University; President & Founder, Tree People; etc. I'm sure these are very nice folks doing excellent work, but in isolated sound bites, they come across like monomaniacal dweebs. And since there are 54 of them to get through, isolated sound bites is all The 11th Hour can manage.

All this clunkiness could be forgiven if the film sent you home outraged and/or chastened. But while it's awash in hypothetical solutions, the prevailing mood, contrary to its intentions, is one of forlorn hopelessness.

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