Immediately, The Cove siphons you in with an articulate visual language blending stock video, interviews, CGI, aerial footage and hidden cameras. Dark vignettes of infra-red lit stealth divers rushing and creeping, haunt the opening sequence.
An establishing chapter quotes the statistic of 23,000 dolphins killed each year before the film zeroes in on the personal story of Ric O’Barry, dolphin trainer turned anti-captivity activist. We are briefly informed of the who, what and whys' as the film uncovers a deeper conspiracy within the food industry.
Next is ushered in the development of the films main focus; The formation of a team whose mission it is to infiltrate and expose the truth of what goes on in 'the cove', Taiji. The apparent slaughtering ground for thousands of dolphins each year. What follows is a tense game of cat and mouse as the team scheme to outwit the local authorities and fishermen to get the footage they want.
The Cove is a fine piece of sensationalist documentary making, it is tense and totally entertaining. People will love this film. However, upon analysis the film can seem a little unfocused. Are we dismayed that another country kills animals to eat? Are we appalled that they are risking poisoning the population with mercury? Are we impressed by the guerrilla style film-making on display? Do we just want to see the guy who trained Flipper play Rambo? I think the inclusion of all of these things attempt to distract from the question; What is the real difference between them and us?
I'm a skeptic by nature and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm also no stranger to the documentary form and it's enigmatic power to manipulate and convince. By this point I am acutely sensitive to the craft of documentary being exploited by environmentalists and politicians and find it a bit offensive. The Cove skirts dangerously close to this line and I'm worried the message falls apart under the weight of cheap thrills. It's is an honest film but as the credits roll and the images of blood-red water saturate your brain you can't help but feel the film reduces to very little. An educational exercise jazzed up with life stories and campaign footage. A film about film-making. The revelation that they kill lots of dolphins is made in the first minute, with the rest of the film biding time before they show us it. The dramatic sections in the cove compromise the poignancy of the film in order to make it totally accessible to a wide audience.
What remains here is a powerful and entertaining film that will expose a large audience to an uncomfortable truth and that is surely a positive thing.
Merry Christmas - Miss Toronto 2009.