Rating: * * * *
Verdict: A documentary dressed up as a knuckle-whitening thriller.
An ecological polemic with the pounding heart of a thriller, this is a film to make you angry. Psihoyos, an acclaimed photographer whose credits include National Geographic, turns his attention to a the village of Taiji in southern Japan: "a little town with a big secret".
It's the headquarters of a major operation that captures dolphins and sells them, for up to US$150,000 each, to the world's marinelands. Much worse, it's the scene of an annual slaughter of unbelievable brutality in which animals that don't sell are casually butchered, more than 20,000 at a time, in a secluded cove (as if that were not enough, their mercury-laden flesh is sold as whale meat).
The film documents a daring series of raids designed to draw attention to these horrors and, if there were any doubt that they are connected, Ric O'Barry, one of the movie's major figures, is there to dispel it.
The man who captured and trained the five dolphins who played TV's Flipper - which spawned the dolphin circuses - has spent much of his life making amends: a breathtaking sequence when he gatecrashes an International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting, with a screen playing damning video footage strapped to his chest, irresistibly reminds us of a man undertaking a ritual of atonement.
But Psihoyos' style is neither reverent nor prettily pictorial. His film, which charts the progress of a guerrilla campaign against the killing is knuckle-whitening stuff, with infra-red photography, muffled radio transmissions and all. As town officials try to control the activists' movements or villagers - determined that the protest will not disrupt their local economy - follow them with video cameras, we learn some of the hard political truths: the IWC doesn't speak up for small cetaceans and the non-whaling, notably West Indian, nations that have given their IWC votes to Japan have done so because they are "sick of being told what to do".
The events in Taiji, we see, are the tip of a bloody iceberg and public outrage alone will not put a stop to the slaughter. But the outrage this film surely stirs up is a damn good start.
Director: Louie Psihoyos
Running time: 94 mins
Rating: M (content may disturb)