Lionsgate // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // December 14th, 2009
Shallow water. Deep secret.
Louie Psihoyos' The Cove is by far one of the most thrilling documentaries I have ever seen. As shocking as it is real and entertaining, this is a compelling piece of investigative journalism that will undoubtedly engross viewers and offer them a heroic story unlike any other in this genre. Winner of dozens of audience awards and other prizes at numerous festivals, The Cove is a film you shouldn't miss.
The main focus of the film is a secret cove in the remote Japanese town of Taijii, where a group of fishermen engage in the massive slaughter of more than twenty-three thousand dolphins on a yearly basis. Dolphin trainers from all over the world visit Taijii to examine and buy captured dolphins for up to $150,000 a piece, but those not making the cut are brutally terminated before ending up on Japan's fish markets.
In order to put an end to the horror and expose the mass killings to the world, director Louie Psihoyos, former dolphin trainer Richard O'Barry and a group of filmmakers, activists, and free divers embark on a covert mission to sneak cameras into the heavily guarded cove and finally shine a light on what really happens to the dolphin.
The Cove is both an utterly fast-paced thriller and a truly enlightening documentary. Not only does it provide a shocking, yet truthful insight into the dark sides of a multibillion-dollar industry, but it also generates an incredible dose of suspense following this determined team's attempts to penetrate the cove and walk away victorious by getting the footage they're after.
Psihoyos tells us at the beginning of the movie that he tried to make The Cove legally, but he soon realized it was an impossible task. The cove in Taijii is heavily protected by both fishermen and the local government, which is exactly why he gathered a team of experts and decided to infiltrate the bay by night and with the help of state-of-the-art surveillance equipment. Watching them execute their master plan is a fascinating experience.
Even though the big mission itself is reason alone this documentary delivers the goods, The Cove also spends considerable time educating its viewers about why so many dolphins are slaughtered, why selling dolphin meat is so dangerous, and why nobody has done anything about it so far. Most people in Japan were unaware of this while Psihoyos was shooting the film, but dolphin meat contains a high amount of mercury that can be highly damaging to consumers. Yet, the Japanese government isn't doing much about it.
On the other hand, former dolphin trainer Richard O'Barry sheds some light into what is going on inside dolphins, especially when they are forced to live in captivity. For instance, a dolphin's smile is nature's greatest deception, O'Barry tells us. These are highly intelligent, sonic creatures, and they don't belong in marine parks such as Sea World. O'Barry used to capture and train dolphins himself for a living (he worked on the Flipper series), but after he saw these fascinating creatures suffer, he turned his back on his career and became an activist trying to rescue as many dolphins as he could.
The film's focus on O'Barry's motivation to expose the killings inside the notorious Taijii cove is as compelling to watch as the rest of its content, and most of his interviews are both informative and emotionally charged. So are the interviews with Psihoyos and everybody else involved in the project. As far as the footage in the movie is concerned, most of it is just mind-blowing and utterly shocking. Whether or not you are an activist yourself, you will find some of these images are unforgettable.
I can only praise every aspect of this unique documentary. It's both structured very well and highly entertaining, and the film's superb editing and arresting score both help boost its technical qualities. Psihoyos has never made a film before this one, and as he told me during an interview earlier this year, he has no intention of becoming known as a filmmaker. He wants to be an activist who wants to fix things, and The Cove is a wonderful start.
On DVD, the film looks splendid. From the footage captured inside the cove to underwater shots and shots recorded with special high-def cameras, The Cove boasts a solid 1.78:1 widescreen transfer that carries a crisp, sharp image quality throughout. This is a visually impressive experience, and the DVD does the footage justice. The same goes for the sound transfer.
The special features in this disc include a series of short clips offering more information on the different types of cameras the crew used to capture the footage inside the cove. Although rather short, these clips show viewers how exactly these cameras work and how they were disguised before being hidden during the covert mission. The bonus material also includes a superb audio commentary, a 5-minute featurette about free diving, a couple of deleted scenes, a trailer, and "Mercury Rising," an interesting 18-minute documentary about Minamata's mercury poisoning outbreak and the dangers mercury poses to us humans today.
I can't say it often enough: if you haven't already, make sure you see The Cove. It's a truly unique documentary that serves as both a wakeup call and an adrenaline rush. It is also one of the best films I've seen this year, plain and simple.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site