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The Cove

Dir: Louie Psihoyos

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Roadside Attractions

94 Minutes

Branded as the Bourne Identity meets “Flipper,” Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove is a documentary about a seaside town in Japan that has a “really big secret.” See, the people of Taiji are blessed with a natural cove that, besides being a thing of beauty, is the perfect place to trap dolphins. Following dolphin-trainer-turned-activist Richard O’Barry, Psihoyos recruits a crack team of cameramen and divers to find out exactly what is happening in Taiji’s cove. Sure, the public can watch the fishermen herd dolphins into the cove to sell to purveyors from dolphin shows and swim with attractions from around the globe. But then there is the secret cove that no one sees, the one where the rejected dolphins are dragged into and never return.

O’Barry, the trainer for “Flipper” blames himself and the show for the proliferation of dolphin captures for places like Sea World. If the program (aided by his knowledge of dolphins) hadn’t been so successful than dolphin captivity would not be an issue, he reasons. So as a penance, O’Barry has charged himself with the task of freeing dolphins worldwide. But the film’s story is really much bigger than what happens in that heavily protected, clandestine cove. It is no secret that are oceans are being overfished and Psihoyos lays the blame of its depletion at the feet of the Japanese. As The Cove expands, we learn the Japanese have been trying for years to lift the ban on whaling, even buying the votes of impoverished Caribbean nations on the International Whaling Commission. Unfortunately, the International Whaling Commission does not protect dolphins and there is a secret movement in Japan to kill them for their meat, passing it off as whale meat. One major problem, besides the ethical issue, is the levels of mercury in dolphin meat are so high that they can cause birth defects and other serious health issues. But that doesn’t stop the mayor of Taiji from attempting to include dolphin meat in compulsory school lunches across Japan.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of The Cove is its focus on dolphin psychology. According to O’Barry, dolphins are just as self aware as we are and the film makes a good case against keeping them in captivity. There is some amazing underwater footage of dolphins at play and interacting with one another. But this astonishing footage does not keep the film from faltering during some steps. Psihoyos unwisely interjects himself into the narrative and the “exciting” sequence of entering the secret cove is not nearly as riveting as it must have been for those involved. The director’s biggest coup is the retrieval of some devastating footage that will haunt audience members for days after the credits roll. Rather than feel the need to craft a 90 minute film about the adventure of getting the footage, Psihoyos could have let the horrific moments speak for themselves. Ultimately, The Cove is most effective when O’Barry or the dolphins are on-screen. The subject is enthralling enough that we don’t need to be sold on a Bourne style adventure to fill up the empty space.

The Cove is an important film with an important message. While most people will opt for lighter fare at the box office this summer, its message is undeniable and timely. See it before one more dolphin is killed.

by David Harris

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