On February 24, 2010, Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year-old trainer at SeaWorld
in Orlando, Florida, was drowned and her body brutally mutilated. This
documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite has former trainers now acting as
whistle-blowers talking about the incidents leading up to this death,
with the angle that SeaWorld is culpable and that its treatment of
whales in its park is inhumane.
The movie is also at the same time a biography of Brancheau's killer, an orca whale named Tilikum. It starts with the whale's capture in 1983 and follows the near thirty-year journey of the animal from one country to another, as well as from one organization to the next, all while the abuses and dangers increased, not only to Tilikum himself but to the trainers around him. All in all, three human deaths are linked to Tilikum and various injuries and near-misses.
Of course, SeaWorld is painted as the villain. It's never stated, but the talk from a lot of trainers seems to indicate they would prefer SeaWorld didn't exist. Again, it's never stated, but the solution implied is akin to that of Free Willy (1993), or at least for the public to boycott. Cowperthwaite certainly crafts a convincing argument that could lead to no other conclusion.
What's interesting or perhaps frustrating is that the movie is as claustrophobic as the small tank wherein Tilikum was held. This doc is detailed. It's damning, and it definitely will drown the viewers in indignation.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing and violent images.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 23 mins.
Limited theatrical release.
Aired on CNN on October 24, 2013.