The sobering environmental advocacy documentary “Before the Flood” is quite obviously producer/host Leonardo DiCaprio’s stab at “Inconvenient Truth”-level consumer-education, starting with footage of his speech as a United Nations messenger of peace on climate change at the world body two years ago. But unlike Al Gore, he quickly ditches the lectern and instead traverses the Earth on a show-and-tell mission to see what isn’t and is being done to reverse the wretched consequences of man-made global warming.
The Oscar-winning actor visits a massive tar sands operation in Canada (“it looks like Mordor” he quips from a helicopter), mourns the depleting ice in Greenland and gets an earful from Indian environmentalist Sunita Narain, who questions when the U.S. is going to lead by example when it comes to consumption habits.
Director Fisher Stevens (a producer of “The Cove”) is wise to keep his star activist front and center as a figure admittedly learning as he goes, but also unafraid to needle President Obama or Secretary of State John F. Kerry about political efforts to address the issue. (Climate change-denying Republicans, meanwhile, get called out by name.) DiCaprio’s also good in extended talks with figures like Penn State climate scientist Michael E. Mann, who’s been vilified by deniers, and astronaut/scientist Piers Sellers, fighting the good fight even though he has terminal cancer.
Although the framing device of Hieronymus Bosch’s apocalyptic triptych “Garden of Earthly Delights” (where the movie gets its title) is a bit pat, and it’s hard to see how it will reach beyond core believers and the already curious, “Before the Flood” is neither dull screed nor stat-heavy pamphlet, thanks largely to the questing intensity of its marquee guide.
‘Before the Flood’
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, some nude and suggestive art images, language and brief smoking
Playing: Laemmle Royal, West L.A.