"I was buying a new Porsche every year," says a rueful Ric O'Barry, who as a young man was instrumental in the '60s TV show Flipper. He caught and trained several dolphins who made the program a hit (inspiring countless divers and marine biologists along the way); then when the show was cancelled and its mammalian stars abandoned, he claims his favorite, Cathy, committed suicide in his arms. Go ahead and cry now, because this Sundance prize-winning documentary gets even heavier. O'Barry was radicalized by his Flipper experience, dedicating his life to freeing or protecting the thousands of dolphins that, because of Flipper, became profitable trained attractions for commercial aquariums around the world. The Cove director Louie Psihoyos, himself a diver and environmentalist, here follows O'Barry and a Dirty Dozen–style brigade of eco-activists to Taiji, Japan, where migratory dolphins are corralled by the thousands in a hidden cove. A few are sold to marine parks for six figures an animal. The rest...well, imagine the worst. The Cove is, in a way, the companion documentary to a real-life horror movie, a maritime snuff film. Few filmgoers will have a guilty conscience about actually eating dolphin meat (which carries dangerous levels of mercury, ick), but some will have to explain to their kids why the summer trip to SeaWorld is being cancelled.
OBarry does penance for Flipper.
Opens at Egyptian, Fri., Aug. 7. Rated PG-13. 90 minutes.Read our interview with director Louie Psihoyos.