"The Cove"; a review by Gary Chew
We've heard the term, 'transparency' used more and more in current vernacular: transparency in the way a democratic government operates either for or against its people; transparency in how a corporation keeps its books to indicate whether it's solvent or not. Maintaining transparency is the primary function of a free press in a free society.
With that concept in mind, a man responsible for giving us a TV series about a dolphin called Flipper, sets out to expose heart-rending cruelty upon sea life. Rick O'Barry knew that if enough people could see this covert cruelty perpetrated on dolphins in a cove near a small Japanese coastal town, he could energize a movement to stop it. That's why there's now a documentary called, "The Cove."
Earlier in his life, O'Barry, almost single-handedly, energized television viewers about the intelligence and gentleness of dolphins by raising the five dolphins used for the character, "Flipper." If you don't remember, everybody loved "Flipper." The TV series ran in the mid-60s.
Now, Rick O'Barry sees himself as, inadvertently, giving rise to the dolphin-catching business that's grown through the years and supplies us with those lovable, acrobatic dolphins we enjoy at water-theme amusement parks everywhere.
O'Barry has since realized these creatures shouldn't be held in captivity, at all, and may be more intelligent than those other entities that inhabit Earth called humans beings. O'Barry says dolphins---a category of whales---are as much aware of themselves and their own existence as humans.
To make things grim, O'Barry finds dolphins migrating by this scenic town on Japan's southern coast aren't just captured and sold for theme park display. Many more of them are slaughtered---with their meat harvested for sale.
Town folk causing this dolphin dance of death do it for the big money in it. But they know if word gets out about what they do to dolphins---on such a grand scale---there might be a problem for them and their chosen livelihood.
That's why Rick O'Barry and the director of "The Cove," Louie Psihoyos, go to great lengths to insure they get footage of the mass slaughter of these beautiful creatures to show to a mass audience.
And that's the story of "The Cove." A documentary, but structured and written in such a way, by Mark Monroe, so as to give the film the arc of a dramatic picture that makes short stops along the way for humor and, quite touchingly, the emotion of the real-life characters in this movie who 'play' a role of being themselves.
Psihoyos, a long-time photographer for National Geographic, doesn't dwell on the slaughter, but there's enough of it to see that it really happens. After the kill, the water in the cove, itself, is totally red in color out a good distance from the shore before the sea becomes blue again. But the terrain around the cove keeps the blood and blood-letting unseen by townspeople and tourists.
Young children seated in front of me at the screening seemed to be taking the scenes okay enough, but their breathing, occasionally, could be heard as they witnessed images that I---myself---found disturbing. I have a teenaged daughter who loves dolphins, and I'm not sure if I'd take her to the film, but she doesn't need to see it like, maybe, some others might.
One of the great lengths director Psihoyos takes to get his film of the dolphin slaughter shot is to commission a friend at Industrial Light and Magic in San Rafael, California to craft some phony, but realistic-looking rocks that secretly contain high definition film cameras. They're subsequently distributed after dark by Psihoyos' and O'Barry's crew around the periphery of the cove. Very good camouflage, indeed. None of the so-called fishermen working the secret cove discover the cameras. Yes, clandestine cameras in rocks---that roll.
An even more indicting sub plot, if you will, in "The Cove" is that the harvested meat of the dolphins shows high concentrations of mercury poisoning. Scientific testing in the film indicates this. The dolphin meat is widely marketed and the mercury threat underscores even more environmental concern for advancing ocean pollution and human consumption of fish and seafood.
Playing off "The Cove's" negative segments are some moments of grand cinematography that show the ballet-like movement of dolphins in the wild---leaping through the salt spray of the open Pacific. Other scenes give time for interplay between dolphins and human swimmers in an understood, underwater choreography: an improvisational duo all their own.
Finally, Rick O'Barry seeks atonement in "The Cove" and shows his passion for contrition by strolling through a packed and busy meeting of the International Whaling Commission. O'Barry has a video monitor fastened to his chest that's playing the dolphin slaughter clips. The IWC is an intergovernmental body responsible for the conservation of whales and the management of whaling.
It's not long before O'Barry is escorted from the hall even though word had gotten out about the massacre of dolphins near a town called Taiji, Japan.
Hurrah for freedom of the press on the big screen.
Starts 11/13 at the Circle Cinema.
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Gary Chew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2009, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.