Director: Louie Psihoyos Release Date: 23/10/09 Link: IMDB Call me a skeptic, but I have always been a bit leery about documentaries ever since I took a course on the subject back in college. In that class my fellow students and I learned that director Robert Flaherty had been heavily criticized for staging several scenes in 1922’s “Nanook of the North,” which is considered by many as the very first feature-length documentary. And then there’s the shenanigans of Academy Award-winner Michael Moore, who is presumably the most well-known documentarian of our generation. There’s no question that Moore has produced some fairly thought-provoking movies over the years, however, he is also a king of selective editing and is known for cherry picking facts to make his arguments seem more credible than they actually are. (You could probably say the same thing about a lot of other people who create “nonfiction” films.) To make a long story short, you should never feel bad about taking information presented in documentaries with a grain of salt because, after all, you never know when a filmmaker might be so caught up in their agenda that it prevents them from telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But every so often a documentary will come along that is so powerful and riveting that you can’t help but forgive those involved for meddling with the subject matter to bring an important issue to the forefront. And that’s exactly the case with director Louie Psihoyos’ “The Cove,” a gripping and heartbreaking look at the annual capture and slaughter of thousands of dolphins off the coast of Taiji, Japan. After all, if Psihoyos and his crack team of experts didn’t stick their noses in places some Japanese authorities think they shouldn’t have, we never would’ve been given the opportunity to view one of the most influential films of the decade. Does Psihoyos, who is also a photographer for National Geographic, have an ax to grind in his documentary that is unquestionably one-sided? You bet, but his actions and motivations feel entirely genuine and once you see the shocking footage that Psihoyos comes away with in “The Cove” you will never be able look at dolphins the same way again. The man behind this whole covert mission to expose the horrors that take place in Taiji is Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer who worked with the five female cetaceans that collectively played the title character in the 1960s television series “Flipper.” O’Barry, who today feels somewhat responsible for creating the multibillion dollar dolphin entertainment business, decided to call it quits and become an activist when one of the mammals he trained was so stressed out that she swam into his arms and “committed suicide” by voluntarily closing her blowhole and suffocating to death. Often speaking with slumped shoulders and sorrow in his eyes, O’Barry has spent 10 years of his life building the dolphin industry up and the last 35 trying to tear it down. (When asked how many times he’s been arrested for attempting to free dolphins from captivity, O’Barry playfully responds, “This year?”) Seeking a shot at redemption, O’Barry has set his sights on letting the world know what really happens in Taiji’s secluded, water-filled cul-de-sac that is surrounded by steep cliffs, fences covered in barbed wire and hostile fishermen who will stop at nothing to hide the bloody carnage. Whales have been protected from commercial fishing since 1986, but for reasons unknown, smaller cetaceans like dolphins are not fortunate enough to be on that list. And because of that, every September fishermen from Taiji will go out in their boats and round up the acoustically sensitive mammals in a select cove by clanging on metal poles that are submerged in the waters. Some of the dolphins are sold to trainers for as much as $150,000 a pop, but the ones that don’t get purchased suffer a much more horrific fate. (The film claims Taiji is the largest supplier of dolphins to marine parks and “swim with the dolphin” programs in the world.) I won’t go into much detail here, but many dolphins die in cruel ways and the water turns so red with blood that it might make you think of the elevator scene in “The Shining.” What you see is truly discomforting and not for the faint at heart, but Psihoyos’ decision to show the gruesome slayings is completely necessary because you can no longer deny what is going on there and hopefully these unsettling images will insure that this practice will no longer continue. There are certain films that you’ll never be able to erase from your memory, and without a shadow of a doubt “The Cove” is definitely one of them. While the dolphin massacres may sound rather disturbing, the film delves into even more dark territory as Psihoyos and O’Barry explain how dolphin meat has dangerous levels of mercury and is purposely being mislabeled as whale meat. (It is even being distributed to some school lunch programs in Japan.) “The Cove” may also give nightmares to some when it takes an interesting look at the world’s disappearing fish population and uncovers some possible conspiracies within the Japanese government and International Whaling Commission. “The Cove” can surely be characterized as an informative documentary, but it also works exceptionally well as an espionage thriller as Psihoyos and his “Oceans 11”-type team of adrenaline junkies, world-class free divers and electronics experts infiltrate the cove with underwater microphones and cameras hidden in fake rocks. (O’Barry says the fishermen would kill him if they got the chance and reveals that one of his former peers was strangled to death by her own belt.) Psihoyos may only be a first-time director, but he knows exactly how to build suspense and you have to give him kudos for all the risks he and his friends took to disclose one of the world’s darkest secrets. Psihoyos said the effort was not only to show the dolphin slaughter, but to capture something that will make people change as well. I, for one, will never be able to visit a place like Sea World ever again and after watching “The Cove,” I doubt you will either. I guess it’s safe to say he fulfilled his goal. Rating: 9/10