Riptide is a bit contrary by nature. So when we heard that critics from Rolling Stone and New York Magazine were raving over The Cove -- an environmental exposé-meets-heist documentary starring South Miami guy Ric O'Barry -- we secretly wanted to hate it. But when filmmakers showed the first public screening of the movie to a standing-room-only crowd last night at Miami City Hall, we just couldn't dislike it. We're no film critic, but this is one smart, exciting, and sometimes hilarious movie.
The documentary follows Flipper's former dolphin trainer, Ric O'Barry, as he tries to stop a heartbreaking dolphin slaughter at a hidden sea cove in a small Japanese fishing town. (O'Barry calls it "the little town with a big secret.") The film becomes more like Ocean's Eleven when the ballsy film crew decides to sneak cameras in fake rocks, despite strict police regulation. They plant microphones at the ocean's floor and use military-grade thermal cameras to pull off the operation.
Filmmaker Louie Psihoyos -- once a National Geographic photographer -- did a great job building tension and keeping a narrative thread, which seems like a lot of so-called important documentaries fail to do. As the packed city hall audience munched free pop corn, nobody whispered, left mid-movie, or fidgeted. During the slaughter scene, the woman next to Riptide put a coat over her face as the sound of screaming dolphins echoed through the theater. An older balding fellow in one row over had tears welling in his big brown eyes.
The movie also touches on other issues: mercury poisoning, the ethics of hunting, and censorship. Best of all: The movie promises to make ordinary people -- not only animal rights fanatics -- pay attention. (Afterward, a gentleman in the audience asked, "What can we do?")
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The Cove is scheduled to come out in theaters this July, though an official date hasn't been set.