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Review: The Cove (2009)

The Cove - now out on DVD.
The Cove - now out on DVD.

Louis Psihoyos’ first feature film, a documentary entitled The Cove, is a startling well-made film, first effort or not. The title refers to a secluded cove on the coastline of Taijii, Japan, which provides the setting for the ongoing dolphin slaughter, a hot topic as of late. The film is interesting not for exposing the dolphin slaughter, which by now is old news, but for tackling many other issues surrounding the problem, such as whaling, dolphin captivity, and the high mercury levels found in dolphins and other marine life that may cause a health scare in Japan if ignored. Psihoyos’ main source of dolphin expertise, trainer Ric O’Barry (famous for the tv show Flipper) is also a great source of intrigue, as the Japanese government hunts him for his activist exploits. Following O’Barry’s lead, Psihoyos and a quickly assembled team of film/espionage experts set out to do some activism of their own.

Technically speaking, The Cove is a top-notch documentary. Interview segments are intelligently assembled with a lot of cuts and well-paced editing. The monotony of interviews are broken up with beautiful footage of dolphins swimming through crystal clear waters. These montage sequences are breathtaking to watch and feature appropriately inspiring background music. There are even a few impressive 3d-modeled scenes, which lay out the plan to infiltrate the dolphin cove.

The heart of the film lies in the good intentions of the filmmakers and their actions to help our mammalian friends of the sea. The film plays out like a heist film, much like the superb Man On Wire, and every member of the audience is silently rooting for the good guys to win. Sequences revolving around the infiltration of the dolphin cove are surprisingly tense and suspenseful. The filmmakers also do a good job of relieving tension every now and then with a humorous interview or sequence involving a goofy Japanese fisherman referred to only as Private Space because it’s apparently the only phrase he can say in English. Overall, The Cove is a fantastic documentary, worthy of everyone’s time and consideration due to its relevant and substantial subject matter. Look for it in the list of nominees for best documentary when the Academy Award nominations are released later this month.

The Cove won the Audience Award for the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Since its premiere, the film has gained popularity through word-of-mouth recommendations. The topic may be frustrating, but the film inspires viewers to take action against the dolphin slaughter and really any injustice one might discover. Interested viewers can learn what they can do to help out at the filmmakers’ website.