The End of the Line Dir. Rupert Murray

[Arcane Films; 2009]

After Davis Guggenheim's An Inconvenient Truth proved that ecologically conscious films could substantially raise awareness of an issue, Luc Jacquet's March of the Penguins showed that nature documentaries can also be critical darlings and box-office hits ($77 million ain’t too shabby for a film that only cost $8 million to make). So, in tune with the good vibes of those recent films, director Rupert Murray attempts to channel both modes into one tight package with The End of the Line, a documentary about overfishing. And the results are what you'd expect: clever and stylized, extensive and informative, an accelerator of wide social change However, tackling the complex and multifaceted issue of overfishing isn’t so easy.

Based on Charles Clover’s book of the same name, The End of the Line takes place all over the world — Senegal, Japan, the E.U., and, of course, Earth’s oceans. Murray’s film displays the imbalanced ecosystem of the ocean and points to the chain reaction that overfishing creates. Breaking the links in the chain happens to be a dangerous thing, where predators thin out and the organisms toward the bottom of the food chain multiply disproportionately, disrupting the entire ecosystem. Throughout The End of the Line, scientists come out of the woodwork to reaffirm this conclusion without digging much deeper: In one scene, Murray focuses on a political summit of E.U. leaders and their inability to agree on a fish harvest ceiling that would be environmentally stable, oversimpifying the issue as a problem of an inefficient government.

Although the film brims with the problems and complications that overfishing creates, The End of the Line never proffers any solutions. Maybe the situation is so complex that it defies a clear course of action, that possibilities appear even murkier in the light of the recent economic downturn. But the film never really indicates this. Surely The End of the Line can’t be blamed for bad timing, but the documentary never goes far enough to represent the entire scope of the dilemma.

Despite its conceptual shortcomings, the photography in the film is stunning and tense, with an ambient score perfectly complementing the visual motifs. When the film follows Charles Clover’s investigation of upscale seafood restaurants and the origins of their bluefin tuna, the documentary becomes a rather gripping piece of journalism in action. Though the illustrative graphic work and the narration (by Ted Danson) come across as flat and dull, the film generally communicates its activist message quite well, and it maintains a nice pace throughout.

While The End of the Line never quite captures the subtleties of the overfishing issue, audiences and activists will undoubtedly tip their hats to Murray. Overfishing probably can’t be explained and solved cogently and cohesively in less than two hours, but Murray bravely tackles an issue that deserves increased awareness. However, its many small problems may prevent The End of the Line from reaching the wide audience a more complete film may have attracted.

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