DiCaprio’s Doc is Pretentious — In a Good Way

“Before the Flood,” is a documentary about the exigency of caring for the environment in severe midst of climate change.

Although his role in the United Nations may be in jeopardy, Leonardo DiCaprio still wants everyone to know that our planet is dying. The Fisher Stevens-directed and DiCaprio-produced documentary “Before the Flood” looks at this problem in an accessible and impactful way. Think what you want about DiCaprio’s passion project, but it would be unfair to say that he doesn’t care.

The documentary opens and closes with an allusion to “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” a 15th century painting by Hieronymus Bosch, which, according to DiCaprio, hung above his crib as a young boy. The film uses the three panels of the original triptych to describe the fate of the planet, moving from the Garden of Eden to Hell as our human exploits slowly destroy the earth.

If you’re thinking that this sounds pretentious, it is — but in a strange way, this is one of the merits of the film. Viewers get to see the perspectives of environmentalist heavyweights and world leaders, including the likes of President Barack Obama, Former President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis.

It’s also due to this level of pretension that so much money and work went into this film. The end result is both artful and moving. A passionate DiCaprio admits how much he did not know, and how much he’s learned throughout this project. A highlight of the film is a conversation between DiCaprio and Sunita Narain, an Indian environmentalist and proponent of sustainable development, who proved unafraid to challenge DiCaprio’s mode of thinking and engage with the movie star and UN Messenger of Peace.

For those already interested in climate change and environmentalism, a lot of the information in this documentary is undoubtedly redundant. Additionally, the scope of the film is a little too wide, covering global climate change and all factors that play into it, rather than focusing in on just one. It feels rushed and disorienting at times; the film might have worked better as a TV show at the expense of some of its professionalism. None of the information in this film is novel. Still, it provides a decent introduction to and overview on the extent to which climate change impacts the world today.

Regardless of its flaws, “Before the Flood” is an important film. It’s rare to find a Hollywood actor who cares as much as DiCaprio does and who puts the time and effort that he did into this ultimately smart and moving portrayal of the impending danger of climate change. DiCaprio is a proponent of real economic and political change that could help to right some of the wrongs that we have committed against the planet as a human race.

“Before the Flood” hits New York and Los Angeles theaters on Oct. 21. The film will air globally in 171 countries and 45 languages on the National Geographic Channel starting Oct. 30.

Email Natalie Whalen at [email protected]  

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