An overworked structure hurts this grass roots doc

The End of the Line

on June 19, 2009 by Matthew Nestel

After viewing The End of the Line there’s an expectation that the dilemma (in this case over fishing) is so dire that any human with a heart will rush out and play altruist. Trouble is, the sense of intimacy the film creates is virtually bankrupt: it’s like copulation without foreplay. The formula needs an overhaul and unfortunately Flipper is the one getting spiked. Having feted at Sundance, the picture should get play and strike a nerve with green movement bandwagoners, eat-no-evil consumers and the many who just need a worthy cause—despite the hands of puppetry politics leaving unregulated corps and fancy eateries to go about business-as-usual. Expect a good turnout but don’t be surprised if ducat holders don’t break their bluefin tuna binges afterwards.

The sea is bombarded by a demand that far exceeds supply. Actor/activist Ted Danson narrates us through this crime to Mother Earth (70 percent of her) and tries to soberly analyze the players (predatory humans massacring and consuming without bounds and the few that are trying to put on the stops). We are part of the food chain so inevitably the tuna sandwiches and spider rolls upon which we feast have a story. And we deserve to know that story.

Let’s talk structure. What’s become somewhat stock in crises documentaries is to lean on academics and The End of the Line is no different. Specialists explain that fish are being netted and caught in deplorable abundance, but they don’t stop there: we’re shown slow-mo of the fish suffocating as they are dropped into the boats, the blood squirting out as cold-hearted fisherman take a picks to crush the vertebrates’ skulls. All this unctuously appeals to emotion while the score syncs dramatic strings or pings a few marimba bars to lighten things up. Where’s the free-thinking? You can have any authority say “this” and say “that” but the ‘So what!’ reflex kicks in. And we’re talking about a pretty dire conflict here.

To his credit, director Rupert Murray gives ample face time with author Charles Glover, who speaks candidly. “Every other fish on your plate has been stolen—stolen from you.” Clover’s the author of the book The End of the Line on which the film is based. He’s also a reporter at The Daily Telegraph. He deserves applause for researching an underexposed fishing industry that plagues the environment worldwide. Figures suggest that the reserve of fish will crash (as in no mas) by 2048.

So door-to-door, Clover goes taking notes about the endangered species offered on the menu of the New York restaurant Nobu. There is a gotcha! moment where he gets a Nobu honcho on speakerphone and pins him down to admit that he has no justification for the restaurant’s featuring bluefin tuna and other fish that are clearly supplied by unscrupulous means. The owner suggests the serving of fish be akin to smoking cigarettes and that “At some point people have to make decisions on their own.” But Clover takes home the prize by comparing the posh eatery’s menu items to serving fabled delicacies like tigers or lions. If this were the case, the entire food industry would be up in arms.

The stable of aforementioned academics divulges theses and statistics, and explains that their research is not to be taken lightly. We are heading to days where the sea will be a lifeless watery mass with only mud and worms. One European Ph.D scuba diving bluntly quotes, “Man is crazy and the sea is going to be dead.” Another attests that fishing boats are technically so superior there is no fair fight. He concedes, “The thing is we’re too good right now. Technologically not a single hunted animal stands a chance.” These highlights and more do great justice to the film’s force.

Tender moments are few. Instead the film presents a bunch of ocean shots and people gobbling sashimi. Everything plays out as so many films before it. Issue established. Reestablish the problem deeper and deeper. Figure out who’s trying to mitigate the problem. Ride on their coattails. Then dispense ways to fix it. Wrap it up with a bow and send it off. The cause is good but the formula is waning. Still, sustainable environmentalists will glory in this film because it shouts at the consumer to be wise to man’s ignorance about the doomsday we’re manifesting. But the exercise feels mass-produced and makes you think some books shouldn’t be adapted unless given a new and fervent second wind.

Distributor: Arcane Pictures
Director: Rupert Murray
Producers: George Duffield and Claire Lewis
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 82 min
Release date: June 19 NY

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