Before the Flood – Review (*** 1/2)

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It’s a somewhat depressing reality that this desperately important climate change documentary needs the backing of one of the world’s most famous and beloved actors in order to hammer its point home to a wide audience, but Leonardo DiCaprio nevertheless comes off as a genuinely impassioned Sherpa, delivering his plea with convincing sledgehammer force.

The doc sees DiCaprio visiting various countries around the world and observing how global warming has impacted them, all while meeting up with the statuesque likes of Barack Obama, Elon Musk and Pope Francis to posit potential solutions to the current environmental crisis.

Somewhat unavoidably, DiCaprio can’t help making the documentary just a little bit about himself, with an opening portion that’s at least self-aware enough to appreciate why many might take umbrage with the jet-setting A-list actor being the one to take up this cause.

To his credit, though, he brings a warm, welcome face to a potentially dry, incredibly gloomy subject, and seems nothing if not fully engaged with his subjects, such that his own status as a world-class actor thankfully isn’t brought to the forefront too often, especially once that opening is out of the way.

Before the Flood is a terrifying film about the oil lobby’s horrifying reach as well as the mind-boggling number of climate change deniers working in American politics. It paints a torrid picture of a highly unsustainable system and, rather than dabble in mere conjecture and “fear-mongering”, throws Leo headlong into regions where global warming has directly affected the land, with ice deposits severely diminished and sea levelsĀ rising dangerously.

Many docs succeed at the hand-wringing part but fall down when it comes to offering proactive solutions. This one thankfully has a number of compelling suggestions, albeit ones which seem almost sunnily optimistic given the lifestyle changes they would require for even the most modest-living American. The provocative, food-for-thought element is certainly still there, though (quite literally in one instance, with the suggestion of eating more chicken and less beef due to the lesser waste emissions involved).

As a call to action, it is a well-made work of agitational activist filmmaking, and though it remains to be seen whether DiCaprio’s star power will be enough to get the message where it needs to go the most (I’m skeptical), it is an agreeably accessible, frightening film that should probably be mandatory viewing in schools the world over. Major props to National Geographic for putting it out there free of charge.

*** 1/2

Before the Flood is available now for free on National Geographic’s YouTube channel.

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