There are a lot of worthy films that I put off watching because the subject matter seems too hard to take. The Cove was at the top of my list for “must see but don’t know if I can take” movies. Winner of the 2010 Oscar for Best Documentary, its main subject is the dolphin slaughter that takes place in one small town in Japan. And I am all for stopping dolphin genocide, but sitting down for 90 minutes to watch a film about it seemed to be asking a lot.

Nevertheless, as soon as The Cove was released on DVD, I put it in my Netflix queue and waited for it to become available. (Winning that Oscar meant there was a bit of a waiting list.) Then I got the notice that it was on its way to me and I steeled myself. But I have to give it to the filmmakers; they were smart. They took a very difficult to present subject and wrapped it in a very hip espionage thriller, making the horror part of a wider, more palatable story.

The main character of the film is Ric O’Barry who is in large part responsible for the world’s love of trained dolphins. In the 1960s he captured and trained 5 dolphins to perform in the TV show Flipper. He also played the Dad on the show. Only later did he come to understand what intelligent and sensitive creatures they are, and how cruel it is to capture and imprison them. This realization turned O’Barry into the world’s biggest dolphin advocate, and now he regularly takes on the Sea Worlds and international aquaria over their treatment of the animals. So when he finds out about Taijii, a small town in Japan, where they corral, cull and kill dolphins, he sets out to expose them.

But Taijii is prepared for O’Barry. In fact, the whole town is involved in covering up what is going on. The police keep him and his crew under constant surveillance. The local fishermen physically intimidate anyone with a camera. It is impossible to get to the hidden cove where the annual slaughter takes place. And so O’Barry puts together a team of high tech professionals who use hidden cameras, decoys, night vision goggles, all the tricks of the spy trade to get the story. And this is what makes this film worth watching. You are on the edge of your seat hoping they get the footage that will stop the dolphin slaughter.

Along the way, if you aren’t already, you fall in love with these beautiful creatures. And you thank God for people like O’Barry who cared enough to push the limits and get this tragedy into the public consciousness. The Cove is a rare documentary that has already made activists of a lot of its viewers. I recommend everyone see this film. Sure, there are some hard to take images, but it is an extremely well made movie about a very important subject.

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