In which the slaughter of dolphins proves to be a pretty horrific thing to watch. 

TheCove.jpg

The Cove
Directed by Louie Psihoyos

“You want to capture something that will make people change,” says director Louie Psihoyos, explaining to the camera the rationale behind his rabble-rousing doc, The Cove, and this exposé of Japanese dolphin-killing ends with a doozy — eco-horror money-shots of fisherman harpooning the hapless creatures and overhead footage of blood-washed waters flowing Kool-Aid red. But Psihoyos blows the payoff: When activist Ric O’Barry storms into the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission with a television strapped to his chest and confronts the corrupt body with the visual evidence of its neglect, the director so slathers the soundtrack with composer J. Ralph’s electronic trills and drum rolls that the act of defiance is nearly swallowed up in the din.

Such are the frequent assumptions of the “join-our-cause” picture: to better get the message across, the filmmaker is often moved to up the flash factor in ways both aesthetically crude and rhetorically damaging. Rupert Murray’s recent stop-overfishing picture The End of the Line did it and so does The Cove, laying on the music a little too thickly and indulging in a handful of banal time-lapse shots of fish markets and Tokyo street scenes which distract from rather than augment the case. But unlike in Murray’s picture, the case here is compelling — and cogently argued — enough to carry the day.

In the small coastal town of Taiji, Japan, dolphin hunting is big business. Animals sold to "seaquariums" can bring up to $150,000, while those that don’t make the cut — 23,000 each year — are killed for their meat, which, while highly toxic, is marketed as perfectly healthy whale flesh and sold across the country. When Psihoyos, O’Barry and their crew show up hoping to infiltrate the inner sanctum of “the cove” — the hidden inlet where the worst of the slaughter takes place — they’re predictably greeted with hostility, but setting up hidden cameras under cover of night, they manage to record the evidence of the mass killing. These scenes — tense with the possibility of discovery — are shot in a grainy, hard-to-decipher night vision, the result of documentary necessity rather than artistic choice. The rest of the movie’s aesthetic failings have no such excuse. The Cove may be first rate exposé, but it’s rather less accomplished as filmmaking.

Opens July 31

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