One of the critic quotes included on The Cove's movie poster reads, "A cross between Flipper and the Bourne Identity," and that pretty much sums up the movie. This surprisingly dramatic, gut-wrenching, action-packed thriller-of-a-documentary follows the appropriately clandestine sounding OPS (Oceanic Preservation Society) and its mission to expose the secret annual mass-murder of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. While there for other business, the leader of OPS, a kindly old man who ironically popularized human interaction with Dolphins as a trainer for Flipper, finds out about a hidden cove next to a dolphin catching bay, which daily runs with blood, and which no camera is allowed to film. The local authorities grow weary of the old man's constant questions and enlist an entire crew of Japanese officials to harass him out of the country. Hell bent on finally discovering the cove's secrets, a crack team of thrill seekers and technicians assemble with the mission of breaking into the cove and filming what ghastly deeds occur within.
The documentary is thrilling, powerful, and jaw-dropping in ways most documentaries (and movies in general) rarely are. Because of the exposé nature of the content, the film is really more of a journalistic piece than an artistic one. Be prepared for the exposure of grand conspiracies, heart-thumping secret missions, and perseverance against intimidation. And blood. There is a lot of that too. And anti-Japanese sentiment, but in fairness they brought that on themselves.
As to the heart of the movie's content, even if we accept all the facts as presented, there is some question as to the ethics involved. Clearly dolphins feel pain, but so do all the other mammals we regularly kill (usually at the end of horrific factory-raised lives) for the production of meat. Clearly dolphins are smart, but why should that matter? If it does, how smart does an animal have to be to prevent us from killing it (and if dolphins are so smart, why are we the ones killing them?). Clearly dolphins are also very cute, and I suspect that it is solely for this last reason that most people will give a damn about them. The movie largely declines to fully flesh out this answer, preferring instead to argue that the astronomically high mercury content of dolphin meat is the real issue. They were also a bit short on solutions, curiously suggesting that we help their cause by sending text messages. But on the whole, the movie was superb, riveting, and deeply emotional.