(No longer in theaters)
Jul 31, 2009
Director Louie Psihoyos knows the secret to making a boffo activist documentary: a kick-ass narrative, surprising twists, heroes you root for, and bad guys you despise. The Cove is built like a slick caper melodrama (someone onscreen invokes Ocean’s Eleven), its protagonist a man who has sinned in his own eyes and now spends his life trying to atone. He’s Ric O’Barry, the trainer who got rich training the dolphins that would be Flipper (in the original series) and had a crisis of conscience when the show went off the air and one of the five dolphins who played him went into a downward suicidal spiral (really) in an aquarium tank. Dolphins, he says, don’t belong in captivity. They’re too smart, too soulful, and that smile isn’t really a smile. They’re crying on the inside.
The movie takes place on the coast of Japan in the village of Taiji, where most of the dolphins destined for the world’s aquariums are trapped. That’s bad enough, but the ones that don’t look as cute as Flipper are driven by a wall of sound into a secluded cove and … don’t come out. The cove, otherworldly in its beauty, is heavily guarded: No one gets near it when the deed is being done. The head of the International Whaling Commission and sundry Japanese lackeys deny, deny, deny—and minus pictures of the slaughter, who can prove them wrong? O’Barry and his team need footage—“a game changer.”
The Cove is that game changer. The assembly of the team—divers, technicians, getaway drivers—is stirring. When savvy folks at George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic build fake rocks to hold video cameras, you’ll forgive them for The Phantom Menace. Weeks before the mission, diver Mandy-Rae Cruikshank watches a bleeding dolphin that somehow escaped the cove as it expires in the waves; as she weeps, Taiji fishermen point at her and laugh. The perfidy is infinite: The dolphin meat is saturated with mercury, which goes straight into the brains of little kids and fetuses. The killing, when seen, is indescribable. You’re almost grateful the cove turns red because the carnage is partially obscured.
The end of The Cove is as rousing as anything from Hollywood. Manipulative? Sure—but isn’t that fitting? Capitalism has driven an entire village to massacre dolphins and keep its work hidden. Now comes the exciting crossover-hit documentary to bring on the Mother of All Outrages. You can’t get away with killing Flipper: It’s the bad guys who are dead in the water.