Mini Movie Review: 'The Cove'

Friday, August 7, 2009

If "The Cove" breaks out of the documentary circuit, it will be a major headache for the Japanese government, the dolphin fishing industry and the small Japanese town of Taiji, where every September dolphins are killed by the thousands. The slaughter is part of a traditional fishing culture, according to the Japanese. But if you succumb to the emotional appeal of this documentary, that culture emerges as not just a bloody and brutal business but almost as bad as genocide.

With the help of local politicians and police, the townsfolk of Taiji will do anything to thwart Ric O'Barry, a dolphin trainer turned activist who is the garrulous Virgil in this descent into the aquatic inferno, and his guests.

O'Barry was the dolphin trainer for the 1960s TV series "Flipper." After watching one of his beloved stars commit suicide -- he claims -- he experienced a conversion. He wants the world to know the dark secret of the dolphin slaughter at Taiji, and National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos, who directed the film, is the man to get that done. With a big production budget (funded by Netscape founder Jim Clark), Psihoyos sets out to get the footage that will forc e the world to confront the ugly facts of the killing cove.

O'Barry's claim that the world's aquariums and sea parks are complicit in the Taiji dolphin slaughters is explosive and is vigorously rebutted by members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, including the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

B ut Americans kill animals for food, and we hunt. If you eat meat, can you condemn the killing of dolphins?

O'Barry and others in the film claim that dolphins are not like other animals: They aren't just intelligent, they have consciousness, as humans do.

This isn't an objective documentary. And yet, for all its investment in one side of a bitter controversy, it includes some sense that there are other sides to the argument.

This is filmmaking not just in the service of the environment but in the service of a victim, and while that victim may have flippers and fins, it is straight from central casting.

Which won't make it any easier for the Japanese government, or the town of Taiji, to avoid the powerful indictment of "The Cove."

-- Philip Kennicott

The Cove PG-13, 92 minutes Contains disturbing content. Area theaters.

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