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Living in a modestly sized city like Portland can have its drawbacks for culture vultures. Art exhibits, live theater, indie films—sometimes it’s months, even years, between reading about these things and seeing them in person. But occasionally this period of purgatory has its advantages, and Blackfish is such an occasion. Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, the 6-ton bull orca that killed veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite paints a story of a whale torn from its family as a 3-year-old, but she also tells the story of a traumatized whale that killed two other people before Brancheau, and the story of a billion-dollar corporation that systematically sought to keep its staff and customers ignorant of the evidence that these highly intelligent, emotionally sensitive mammals don’t so much like living in swimming pools, being taken from their families or having people surf on their backs—and sometimes they express that violently. It’s a brilliant advocacy film—nail-biting, upsetting, maddening and at times even uplifting. You will walk out thinking, “Seriously: Fuck SeaWorld,” and go home to do some angry Googling. But you will also walk out wondering just how much was accurate and balanced. And that’s when you can really appreciate that Blackfish debuted at Sundance in January and has been screening in New York and L.A. for a month. SeaWorld has already issued a critique, the filmmakers have issued a critique of that critique, and plenty of others have weighed in. And even with all the lawyers and PR people that 50 years of selling orca plush toys can buy, SeaWorld’s rebuttal looks weak, and frankly, the company still comes off looking like a bunch of assholes. Blackfish may push an agenda, but after a month of debate, it still seems an agenda worth pushing.

Special Note

Cinema 21
  • Running Time:
  • Release Date: Tuesday, August 6, 2013
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Critic's Score: A
  • Watch the trailer

Show Times

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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