Dan Shapley / News Editor
The 11th hour, Leonardo DiCaprio''s statement about the state of the environment, is an optimistic apocalyptic march across the decaying globe, narrated at the pace of a heartbeat, with each beat a snippet of wisdom from a leading scientific or cultural personality.
It is designed to leave the audience emboldened and empowered -- feeling that the 11th hour, the one before the collapse, will be "our finest hour," as the star narrates near the end. The movie succeeds despite a virtual mirroring of that formula -- 11/12 doom and gloom, and 1/12 can-do problem-solving optimism, and despite some other flaws that will turn off some audiences.
The movie opens with that heart beat metronome, timed to coincide with a string of images -- the beautiful, the biological, the political, the cultural, the spiritual and the industrial. (As a comment on the zeitgeist, it is telling: A simple car tailpipe and a thick slab of red meat feel as ominous as a towering industrial smokestack or the requisite clubbing of a baby seal.)
The movie''s brisk pace, as it attempts to tie together these various concepts into a cohesive web, is both its strength and weakness. As authoritative as the cast is, none are given time enough to fully make any one argument, as the movie bounces from voice to voice. The scientific facts are mashed up with mystical and cultural assertions in an approach that can leave the viewer at times feeling that the global environmental crisis has less to do with the abundance of carbon in the atmosphere, the collapse of ecosystems or toxic pollution -- and more to do with the scarcity of love in our hearts.
And some concepts -- did you know that mushrooms are being primed to save the earth? -- seem to be given extraordinary weight, given the pace of the movie as a whole. DiCaprio even suggests near the conclusion that conscious evolution -- a phrase that if taken literally would offend any scientist worth her salt -- is the path toward a clean green future. But this is Hollywood, after all, not science class. (The writer/producer/narrator, unlike his cast, can get by on three little letters in media headlines.)
The scattershot firing of statements by scientists about the sorry state of the world and its industrial causes, and of statements by cultural thought-leaders about its spiritual causes, has the potential to hit the mark with a variety of audiences. Urbanites who feel disconnected with nature, suburbanites feeling anxiety about "consumerism Democracy," lefties disheartened by "corporate economic globalization," terrorism hawks concerned about global warming''s effect on national security, multicultural lovers concerned about the global community -- every type is represented.
Because no one speaker lays out his or her own full argument, the voice that emerges from the film is Leo''s. It's his statement, spoken through many voices. And in its Hollywood-esque documentary style, it succeeds the way great post-modern speeches succeed -- not necessarily by careful point-by-point argument, but by sound bite-by-sound bite persuasion about the need to care, the need to act and the availability of solutions. The film's test will be whether or not the filmmaker's sense of possibility infects his audience. The 11th Hour opens in Los Angeles and New York Friday, and nationwide Aug. 24.
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