Movie Review: The Cove
By Tom Macy
August 3, 2009
Though it may be his first film, Psihoyos has an uncanny eye. This is not surprising, as he is widely regarded to be among the top photographers in the world, shooting for National Geographic and several other publications over the last 18 years. His experience shows and his transition to the moving image is seamless. Several of the images, both the horrifying and the beautiful, still linger in my brain.
But the most impressive filmmaking feat here is that nothing feels crammed in. The cove itself is just the key that opens the door to a sprawling tale of worldwide crisis featuring bribery on the international stage and contamination of 70% of the world's diet. Yet, the narrative shifts between topics and tones with ease. Editor Geoffrey Richman, who was behind the excellent documentaries Murderball and Sicko – which The Cove may be a lovechild of, come to think of it - works his magic yet again, presenting cascades of information in a digestible and retainable fashion, and somehow manages to keep the running time at 90 minutes.
At the movie's center, and what makes The Cove so engrossing, is the real element of danger. One false step could land the crew in a Japanese prison. Forget about just saving the dolphins, those are high stakes. In a film world where excitement usually translates into something that comes out a of computer, this is a real shock to a movie-goer's system. But it's a welcome shock. In particular, the scene where the team breaks in to plant the cameras radiates with suspense like no other film in recent memory.
Now, I know what you're thinking. Sad animals and government cover-ups are always a sure-fire way to get people's blood boiling whether they're real, exaggerated or insinuated. See Michael Moore's career. Am I being told everything? Or am I just being shown sad dolphins?
But where your skepticism may be justified in many films, in Psihoyos' capable hands your expectations are used to his advantage. Take for instance our introduction to Mr. O'Barry. We first meet the 60-odd cap-wearing man as he drives through Taiji - which is a painfully ironically decorated town littered with smiling plaster porpoises. He covers his face in order to not be spotted by the police and suspiciously glances over his shoulder, convinced the Japanese are following him. Big deal, another paranoid conspiracy theorist hippy trying to save the whales. It turns out he does have a tail, as does the entire crew over the course of the shoot.
And that is why the film works. Psihoyos does not lead us astray. After your expectations are defied a few times over – which, trust me, will happen a lot with this film - you feel confident that The Cove will not omit any sides of the story. Any time a question or doubt pops into your head, you can rest assured that it will be addressed. You are in good hands. Just sit back and go along for the ride.
And then go here and do something about it.