I know that Scott has already sung the praises of this film back when he saw it at Sundance, but last week, I finally got to see The Cove for myself and found it to be every bit as emotional and riveting an experience as described by not only him, but colleague after colleague. In a summer season as packed with action as any other, it was this documentary that stood out as one of the more tense and touching films of the year, and the only thing that's probably keeping any of you who can see The Cove from rushing out to do so is its subject matter...
Because The Cove is kinda sorta about dolphin slaughter.
And see, that's where I always lose people. Moviegoers can get behind a global warming lecture to the tune of $24 million on 587 screens, and lessons on how to eat healthier brought in the green (Super Size Me did a decent $11.5 million in 230 theaters at its widest; this summer's Food, Inc. has managed an alright $3.8 million in 155 theaters so far), but tell them it's a documentary that'll make you ashamed of Sea World and it's no dice. In all fairness, The Cove hasn't reached beyond 56 theaters yet in comparison, but for all its raves, it has less than half a million dollars to its name.
Luckily, its distributors already seem to have a fairly dedicated expansion plan in place, but as the L.A. Times pointed out, even the socially conscious moviegoers aren't turning out nearly as much for something with such severe content (and while I can't deny that there is some graphic imagery, I can assure you that it does not dominate the film), and if the indie types won't turn out, what's to convince the average Joes and Janes that this is as close to a real-life Ocean's Eleven-type thriller* as they'll find in the cineplex and therefore worth the cost of admission?
Late last year, several of us here were championing the hell out of the sobering-to-say-the-least documentary, Dear Zachary..., and while many of our readers came across as (rightfully) affected in their comments when the film finally aired on MSNBC, several of my friends said that they probably wouldn't have watched it if they knew just how dark the story was going to get. I personally found the ultimate power of the film to come out of its final minutes, as the filmmaker came to realize the silver lining on that darkest of clouds and the true, unassuming heroes of the ordeal came to light, and I felt that that was what made it all worthwhile.
Bleak though it does get, I think it's fair to say that The Cove is more essentially entertaining than Dear Zachary... was, in that its story lends itself better to conventional ideals of heroes, villains and suspense, which makes the humanity and horror that arises out of it that much more rousing. It's a film good enough for Ben Stiller's approval, and powerful enough to give the Tokyo Film Festival second thoughts, and it has one scene with Hayden Panettiere filled with infinitely more emotion than anything in I Love You, Beth Cooper.
See it if you can. Ask about it if you can't. And don't worry -- District 9 will still be there tomorrow.
*It should be said that the crew in the film make that comparison before any of us film writers could jump on such a fitting pun.