“Before the Flood” does everything in its power to convince non-believers that climate change is a very real issue and that immediate action is necessary in order to reverse the effects. It is very similar in its message and execution as Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” just with the star power of Leonardo DiCaprio and more sensational editing to keep potentially wandering minds locked into the subject matter.
The film is manipulative and frequently self-congratulatory, but the message it delivers is so important that in this particular case, some of the discrepancies in terms of editing style are forgivable. It may not be a great documentary in its execution, but it does not have to be.
Both DiCaprio and director Fisher Stevens have clearly achieved their goals.
Those who are already in the know will find very little new information, but they are not the expected recipient of the message. DiCaprio, who not only hosts the film but was a producer on it, sought to target those who may not entirely understand. In his eyes, the conversation hasn’t been thorough enough, and he in no way belittles those who are not educated on the issue. In fact, he fully admits to not understanding what Al Gore was talking about during a meeting with him in his early 20s.
DiCaprio being the figurehead for the entire “Before the Flood” film is both the film’s greatest strength in terms of delivering its message but also its biggest shortcoming as a documentary film. While DiCaprio travels the world talking to many experts and leaders across the planet on the ongoing climate change crisis, his questions often feel overly-simplistic. While the information given from the sources is clear and concise, it is obvious that DiCaprio is not a professional reporter.
However, there will be many viewers who will watch the documentary simply because they follow DiCaprio’s work. No doubt, DiCaprio is aware of the strength of his star power and while he lacks the authority Al Gore had while speaking of the subject, he will likely reach just as many, if not more, people because of his contributions to the film.
Similarly, the film’s editing can border on being manipulative, quickly cutting between footage of overpopulated cities and towers of gas pouring into the atmosphere between the interviews. It moves at a much quicker clip than most films of its type. The cinematography often feels more like a fully budgeted feature film than the grit found in many documentary productions. Every scene feels as though it was strategically shot to gain a look that is simultaneously cinematic and persuasive. Whether this is a flaw or a quality will depend on the viewer’s definition of what a documentary film should be, but it remains visually appealing.
“Before the Flood” has its heart in the right place and when it comes to the subject of climate change, getting a conversation going is more than enough. While it lacks the timeliness and authority Al Gore had brought to “An Inconvenient Truth” years before, it is likely that an entirely new generation of Leonardo DiCaprio fans will become educated on a subject that may have previously vexed them.
Regardless of the frequently manipulative editing, there is no other subject that warrants getting just a bit preachy like the subject of saving the planet.