A confession: activist causes sometimes make me uneasy. Perhaps it’s because I feel guilty for not having my own cause that I fight for. So I had some reservations before watching The Cove, a film about the efforts of a group to expose the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Watching cruelty inflicted upon animals is also never appealing.
For those who might have the same doubts, fear not. The activists are admirable and inspiring, even for a slightly cynical audience like myself. Yes, there is about two minutes of footage towards the end that might make you want to cry. Fast forward past that part if you must. The rest of the film pulls you in like the best Hollywood thriller.
The Cove’s great strength is, on the one hand, to describe humans’ mistreatment of dolphins not only in Japan but across the world and, on the other hand, to tell a good story with lots of intrigue. No need to get into the details of the mistreatment, but it’s worth describing a bit of the intrigue.
The central character is Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer turned activist. He forms an alliance with the film’s director to help capture video footage of the carnage taking place in the cove, a small inlet in Taiji that is sealed off from all nosey outsiders. The director, Louie Psihoyos, then recruits a variety of folks to pull off this mission. Psihoyos compares the group to George Clooney’s Ocean 11, and the comparison is apt.
There are deepwater divers planting audio and video equipment at the bottom of the cove, a special operations guy breaking through security fences, and a Hollywood set designer recruited to hide the cameras in artificial rocks. Mixed in are the filmmakers using optics and thermal cameras for surveillance, angry fishermen stalking the activists, and the local police force interrogating O’Barry.
All of this is very compelling to watch, made all that much more powerful because you realize that the activists’ determination to uncover what is happening in the cove is only matched by the determination of the fishermen and local officials to hide what they are doing.
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