It would be an insult to call “The Cove” the dolphin and porpoise version of a “Save the Whales” documentary. It is a documentary thriller filled with wildlife education, thorough journalism and top-notch espionage as much as it sheds light on an environmental/animal rights issue as deserving of our attention as anything else.
Louie Psihoyos draws the analogy perfectly to “Ocean’s Eleven.” He is the Danny Ocean with the drive to assemble a team and accomplish his mission: finally capture video evidence of dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan to make the world aware and the Japanese government accountable for its actions.
Psihoyos brings together a number of specialists from deep-sea divers to set designers who work for major Hollywood special effects, set and props company Industrial Light and Magic. Together they must slip by local authorities and fishermen who literally dedicate hours of their time just to prevent people from getting video footage of any wrongdoing (who also have their own cameras hoping to get enough evidence to arrest these “tresspassers.”) So much of the power of “The Cove” comes from the fact that this one cove serves as a large percentage of Japanese dolphin slaughter.
The documentary also has a main character, Rick O’Barry, who is an incredible story in and of himself. O’Barry is a longtime dolphin freedom activist who has been arrested countless times for freeing dolphins. Ironically, he was the very man who trained the infamous Flipper for the 1960s television show and having gotten to know dolphins so well, learned that captivity is more harmful for them than we realize.
Part of the initial power of “The Cove” is its guilt trip. We learn how dolphins aren’t best suited for captivity despite their apparently happy demeanors and if you’ve ever been to Sea World or enjoyed any kind of dolphin performance or “swim with the dolphins” attraction, immediately you feel like a terrible person. How often we forget that dolphins are the most intelligent creatures on the planet and that they’re most sensitive to sound, which is stressful in a closed environment. The film continues to bring up their intelligence and challenges how you think about these creatures or any animal.
As far as journalism, “The Cove” covers all its bases. From probing the international committee that determines all laws applying to whales, dolphins and other cetaceans to examining the argument of “well, you Americans slaughter cows” to the mercury level of whale and dolphin meat, there’s little this documentary doesn’t talk about.
Ultimately, the powerful narrative of “The Cove” makes it one of the best documentaries ever made. Few films can truly achieve character depth (as in O’Barry’s story) and suspense (their mission to plant cameras where they’re not allowed) while being entirely true and not contrived in the least.
If you like feeling empowered to leap to action after a documentary, this is not quite the expertise of “The Cove.” It’s more a change in perspective and a showcase of what empowered people can accomplish when they put their heads together. Unless you have time to go to Taiji or campaign for awareness over the Internet, there’s not much you can do in your daily life to make a difference other than not visit Sea World on vacation.
Directed by Louie Psihoyos
Written by Mark Monroe