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With: Richard O'Barry                   
Written by: Mark Monroe
Directed by: Louie Psihoyos
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing content
Running Time: 96
Date: 04/25/2009

The Cove (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Chipping in for Flipper

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When it opened theatrically, The Cove sounded like something I didn't want to see: a preachy nature documentary. But the actual film is much more daring and memorable. In it, Richard O'Barry, who was the dolphin trainer on the "Flipper" television show (1965-1966), has turned activist and is trying to save the world's dolphins from persecution. He travels with a covert film crew to Taiji, Wakayama in Japan, where thousands of dolphins are slaughtered every year. ("Pest control," is the reason, we eventually discover.) Worse, the fishermen are trying to pass off the poisonous, mercury-riddled dolphin meat in the markets and schools.

The local police and fishermen are violent about defending their territory and not allowing O'Barry access to the killing grounds. So he and his crew risk serious jail time to set up clandestine cameras and recording equipment to capture the slaughter. In-between, the film spends time talking about dolphins and background details on all this, including clips of the "Flipper" show and O'Barry at work. It's a fascinating and even heroic film. The most shocking footage is the sea turning red with dolphin blood, but that may be more of a reason to see the film than to turn away. Actor Fisher Stevens co-produced.

Lionsgate released a DVD with a commentary track by Stevens and director Psihoyos, a short documentary about mercury, deleted scenes, other behind-the-scenes footage and a trailer. In 2011, Lionsgate followed up with a Blu-Ray edition, with roughly the same extras. I hope this movie continues to find an audience now that the Oscar fervor has died down.

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