Directed by Fisher Stevens Starring Leonardo DiCaprio Film Review by Dean Pettipher
Few Hollywood mega stars have gripped hold of a charitable cause, while maintaining consistently critically and commercially acclaimed prominence within the movie business throughout, quite as tenaciously as Leonardo DiCaprio. Indeed, DiCaprio’s extensive philanthropic endeavours suggest that his devotion to entertaining and inspiring through impressive dedication to the acting profession has long since adopted as secondary position to actions more easily defined as those performed for the sole purpose of making the world a better place for all. The journey to date was epitomized by DiCaprio’s establishment, at the age of twenty-four, of a non-profit organization for the passionate promotion of environmental awareness, aptly named the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Furthermore, additional highlights from the journey include chairing the national Earth Day celebration in 2000, making crucial contributions to a global warming documentary entitled The 11th Hour (2007), raising roughly $40 million for the aforementioned foundation at a self-organised fine art auction and consequently hosting the world’s highest grossing environmental charity event ever making it to fruition, awarding about $15.6 million to aid in the protection of wildlife and the rights of Native Americans in addition to dealing with climate change, sitting on the board of various world-renowned environmental organizations including the World Wildlife Fund and Global Green USA, working with orphaned children from the SOS Children’s Village in Mozambique during the filming of Blood Diamond (2006), donating $1 million to help relieve the Haiti earthquake tragedy in 2010, giving another $1 million dollars that same year to the Wildlife Conservation Society at Russia’s Tiger Summit and parting with $61000 in 2013 to help the organization named GLAAD with promoting the image of LGBT citizens in the media.
More recently, DiCaprio may most likely be recalled within discussions surrounding a documentary, entitled A World Unseen (2016), released on YouTube alongside his Oscar-winning movie, The Revenant (2016), showing in cinemas. Here, in the former project, while speaking of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s directorial vision for the latter production, DiCaprio stated, “What Alejandro wanted to do was create poetry in that story. The poetry of what it means to have all the chips stacked against you, to have very little chance of survival [and witness a] triumph of the human spirit and what we can endure.” The essence of such words are echoed in DiCaprio’s latest project, Before the Flood (2016); a zealous, heartfelt documentary that seeks to prove the undeniable reality of climate change, the sheer scale of the problem, the urgency required in order to address concerns before the fleeting final hour passes, offer solutions, and point out the poetical as well as more individual human realities. Above all, the feature appeals to a collective responsibility to stop being so lazy and accept the need for a necessary sacrifice and a shift in mentality in order to do something positive immediately concerning climate change. An urgent call is made to protect, preserve and heal the world as soon as possible, preventing its present gloomy course of direction. DiCaprio even wanted to release the work prior to the US Presidential Elections in order to convince voters of the need to elect leaders who believe in the climate change science and will therefore take action to address the dilemma. Not least for its determination to show the world that climate change is not simply some arbitrary concept with merely some verisimilitude drifting with its immediate vicinity, Before the Flood is an exceptionally-made feature and quite simply a diamond imperatively requiring addition to one’s to-watch list of essential viewing.
The feature flows like the most wonderfully light ocean breeze courtesy of a great pace, supported by some awesome filmmaker techniques seen most frequently in documentary-style productions. Fisher Stevens, the director of the film with a remarkable career story marked by rejection even as an wannabe extra for a television commercial and a gradual rise to both acting and directing stability with credits including a role in The Night Of (2016) and co-directing Mission Blue (2014), sustains total control, slowing down and speeding up towards a overall sobering impact in the wake of dire shock. Stevens and DiCaprio defiantly keep the audience ensorcelled by employing concise explanations, clear messages, a tone that treads carefully atop the tipsy tables of political appropriateness, an intriguing use and seamless integration of famous film clips from the archives of modern political history, a variety of sources and locations, a superb albeit infrequent use of music, as well as great quick-fire presentations of facts and figures. Thus, at the core of the real-life quest recounted on the silver screen lie instances of humour, astonishment and a fundamental call to a state of genuine contemplativeness.
DiCaprio and the arctic combine for the relishing of extraordinary imagery, heightened by vivid azure waters and skies, while accompanied by a use of music and the lack thereof in all the right shots. Once the zephyr gives way, DiCaprio delights in vast jungles with wildlife, showing, with a broken heart, the tarnished beauty resultant from tortured innocence, following the selfish extermination of life. Audiences witness a blunt presentation of the ruthless collateral damage endured by land, sea, air and all life in between, all for the sake of quenching the incessant thirst that they all know as greed. The abuse of various world treasures here never descends to the frustrating state of soppiness seen in so many well-intentioned documentaries and advertisements seen in the past. Yet, the determined efforts to insist that such destruction must finally be taken seriously and ended for good feature a noteworthy number of necessary heartache manoeuvres from both within and without, depending on induvial audience sensibilities.
Before the Flood features an extremely humbling cast of major political figures from around the world. Moreover, DiCaprio’s most recent adventures glimpsed by international news networks finally emerge together here to form a coherent work of art that remains sensitive while determinedly seeking to be honest by, for example, asking fairly bold questions in a calm and composed manner that perhaps only one with world-renowned status could ask with any hope for substantial answers in return. Throughout these interviews, DiCaprio shows that he is for certain a humble man in spite of his Oscar-glowing status. Moreover, such a character trait that has clearly not, in this case, been brewed as an alternative self for use in front of the camera.
Due to the loquacious nature of Before the Flood and its chief architects, the work constantly weathers a violent, unforgiving storm fuelled by the interpretation that it is nothing more than a vanity project of shameless self-indulgence from DiCaprio, since his background, life to the present day and personal contributions towards combating climate change all achieve great prominence with the picture. However, such claims are harsh because DiCaprio is undoubtedly passionate, to the most genuine degree, about the climate change cause. There is a need to share his life stories in order to explain this unquestionable reality to the world, so that the fascinating consequences and the further implications of climate change if it is left unchecked are that much more likely to be believed, by bitterly sceptical audiences especially. While DiCaprio fans will relish the opportunity to learn more about their hero and understand him in greater depth, even they will concede that ultimately, through clever links, shocking revelations, determined endeavours and sincere attempts to propose promising resolutions, the problems of the world created by climate change emerge at the heart of the documentary and thus become positioned at the forefront of audience minds when the credits roll.
In 2014, DiCaprio was appointed as the United Nations representative on climate change and has given two crucial speeches since, in 2014 and 2016 respectively. At the first event, the UN Climate Summit, he stated, “I stand before you, not as an expert, but as a concerned citizen. This is not a partisan debate but a human one. Solving this crisis is not a question of politics. It is a question of our own survival. This is the most urgent of times and the most urgent of messages.” At the second event, a UN assemblage staged in April 2016, prior to the Paris Climate Change Agreement, he declared, ”As a UN Messenger of Peace, I have travelled all over the world for the last two years, documenting how this crisis is changing the natural balance of our planet. All that I have seen and learned on my journey has absolutely terrified me.” In light of such words and aforementioned actions, no doubt melts the ice or burns the forests of adamant belief in relation to DiCaprio’s honest desire to help save the planet from the climate change destruction and subsequent global depression. Such actions recall lessons often heard but never learned from big-budget Hollywood productions, such as Kingdom of Heaven (2005), during which the protagonist, Balian de Ibelin, played by Orlando Bloom, asks, “What man is a man who does not make the world better?”. Unfortunately, but in the end understandably, such actions will also attract viewing of one’s private life through the often corrupted, distorted microscope of the world’s media, sometimes as if the viewer is just interested in making others suffer, deliberately ignorant of the fact that perfection is impossible. For instance, DiCaprio, who has been known to drive eco-friendly vehicles and power his home with solar panels, has received criticism for his continued seemingly unurgent use of private jets. The environmental analyst, Robert Rapier, remarked, that the star’s lifestyle “diminishes his moral authority to lecture others on reducing their own carbon emissions. He demonstrates exactly why our consumption of fossil fuels continues to grow. It’s because everyone loves the combination of cost and convenience they offer. Alternatives usually require sacrifice of one form or another.” While one would at first struggle to argue with Rapier’s sentiment concerning elitist hypocrisy within the argument, one wonders if he has taken up a rather harsh stance on the actor’s one-day visit from Cannes, France, to New York, USA, to pick up an environmental award. DiCaprio, like every human being on earth, may not be perfect. However, he is trying and the concerns voiced for the environment are no less urgent because of that reality. Not infrequently have ‘experts’ on Romantic Love had their advice followed and analysed for centuries, in spite of their own imperfections made clear to all while they, like their proud followers tried and failed often to wrestle with the concept in order to have at least some control over it. In the end, DiCaprio deserves nothing but gratitude for his documentary: A stark warning that everyone is to blame but everyone can play their part in the change so desperately needed to stabilize the climate change crisis. ￼
In isolation, Before the Flood, Fisher Stevens and Leonardo DiCaprio cannot and do not offer a panacea. Action from everyone certainly could, so long as it begins with those with the power to instil a much-needed drastic shift in the collective psyche of the world. The shift must recognize in its entirety, at the very least, the unquestionable truths about climate change and the possibilities through which it can be dealt with, so that the practical action is finally taken. Nonetheless, to enable the documentary with the best possible opportunity to perform its part in that challenging process, Before the Flood is available to watch for free via National Geographic. At present, the film has been viewed via the organization’s official YouTube channel over ten million times. One only hopes that such attention will not have been a pointless exercise of what the Conservative Member of the European Parliament, Daniel Hannan, recently highlighted when he asserted, “Truly, this is an age that has become moralistic, rather than moral. We are more interested in signalling the right opinions than in doing the right things. And I'm afraid, in this respect, we're getting the politicians we deserve." Hope can prevail, however, in no small part thanks to The DiCaprio Legacy. One recalls the famous scene of breathtakingly poignancy from Blood Diamond, when DiCaprio’s character, Danny Archer, confesses, “Sometimes I wonder. Will God ever forgive us for what we’ve done to each other? Then I look around and I realize… God left this place a long time ago.” In reality, DiCaprio has made a decision; a decision that all must make many times in their lives. That is to say, DiCaprio has adopted the bold attitude that if God is not present, the world and its dramas are going to have to make do with him. The world will have to make do with us. DiCaprio is an inspiration, having made it clear that, “after a while, fame is empty and pointless” and decided, in the wake of such realizations, that he can use his position to do something truly worthwhile. Albeit DiCaprio may represent, for some, an elite section of society with exclusive and considerable advantages, he sets the example by which everyone can at least try to take control of their own little worlds in order to truly and positively contribute to the bigger one that they inhabit with him. Thus, his latest work, Before the Flood, may be free to watch at this very moment, but the documentary definitely remains a worthwhile one for both its powerful, benevolent message in relation to the environment and its quality as a work of art. Nonetheless, never before has the hope inspired by the movies mattered so much more than it does now. After surrendering to the collapse of ignorance or denial following a viewing of Before the Flood, one will never, ever observe the climate change debate through the same lenses again.