REVIEW: Blackfish

31 07 2013

Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s “Blackfish” is a pretty standard documentary about corporate malfeasance recklessly endangering the lives of humans and, in this case, animals as well.  You get angry at the SeaWorld big wigs who have cash registers for brains and bottom lines for hearts (to paraphrase a line from “You’ve Got Mail”) when they make coldly calculated moves to save money and save face.

And if you went to SeaWorld as a kid like I did, you’ll feel a fair amount of horror – perhaps even a pang of guilt – as you see the way SeaWorld treats their orcas.

The film does feel a little biased and only like one side of the story since, unsurprisingly, SeaWorld declined to be interviewed about any of the deaths involving their killer whales.  But in the absence of their commenting, “Blackfish” makes a strong case for its position, bringing in a number of former trainers and animal experts to comment on the history of the company and the industry.  To no one’s great shock, there’s a pattern of inhumane and inane behavior.

While “Blackfish” ultimately lacks the great drive to outrage and action of fellow animal documentary “The Cove,” it does have one notable accomplishment: turning a killer whale into a true character.  Tilikum, the orca responsible for several human deaths over the course of two decades, is transformed into a ticking time bomb by Cowperthwaite.  He’s a six-ton Holden Caulfield or, to pull from cinema, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Gomer Pyle from “Full Metal Jacket.”  His instability not only forms the drama that keeps us engaged in the film; it also drives home the overarching message of “Blackfish.”  B+3stars


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5 08 2013
Brittani Burnham

Great review! I’m looking forward to seeing this one. From what I’ve read online, I’m a little concerned about Tilikum being involved in an accident again. If I were that whale, I’d be pissed off and resentful as well.

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