The Cove (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

Review byMatthew Turner21/10/2009

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 90 mins

Impressively directed, thoroughly gripping and utterly horrifying eco-documentary that demands to be seen.

What's it all about?
Directed by Louis Psihoyos, The Cove follows a team of marine activists lead by Ric O'Barry (who used to train the dolphins for Flipper) as they attempt to obtain footage of the horrific mass slaughter of dolphins (estimated at 23,000 each year) that takes place at a concealed cove in Taiji, Japan. The heist-like operation is intercut with various other shocking details, such as Japan's delegate to the International Whaling Commission bribing poorer, land-locked countries to support their pro-whaling stance, government officials denying the toxic levels of mercury in dolphin meat and potentially unsafe dolphin meat being mislabelled and sold as whale meat.

The Good
The structure of the heist-like operation mirrors that of last year's Man On Wire and is every bit as gripping, heightened by O'Barry's justified paranoia. Everywhere the filmmakers go, they're questioned by detectives, followed by unidentified men in cars or intimidated by the local fishermen and security teams, one of whom O'Barry nicknames Private Space, because those are the only English words he says. It's also weird to see the Japanese tourist stereotype of ever-present video cameras given a sinister twist, since the security teams are constantly filming the filmmakers.

The film is extremely well made and brilliantly edited. One particular highlight involves the filmmakers enlisting a prop maker at Industrial Light and Magic to help them disguise cameras as rocks; the subsequent planting of the hidden cameras makes for the film's most thrilling sequence.

The Great
O'Barry makes a compelling central figure and Psihoyos gives the film an extra human dimension by making it clear that the operation constitutes a major step in O'Barry's personal quest for redemption (he essentially sees his role on Flipper as being responsible for the entire dolphins-as-entertainment industry). You'll also gain new respect for Heroes actress Hayden Panettiere, who appears briefly but bravely as part of a separate protest.

Without wishing to spoil the climax of the film (skip this next bit if you're spoiler-averse), it's worth pointing out that the film's 12A certificate doesn't adequately prepare you for the genuinely horrific slaughter scenes that occur towards the end of the film.

Worth seeing?
The Cove is a powerful, important and extremely well made documentary that demands to be seen. Unmissable.

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Content updated: 16/07/2018 00:02

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