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Trophy

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An issue-based documentary like this one about big-game trophy hunting from Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau lives or dies by its level of access. (Yes, you're going to have your talking heads making their nuanced observations and your statistical graphics evincing the direness of things, but you also need to make a movie.) And by that measure, Trophy lives, because the trophy animals die, and you get to (have to?) watch. The story is built around an American sheep rancher's quest to bag the big five (buffalo, leopard, elephant, lion, rhino), and a South African rhino rancher's efforts to legalize the sale of rhino horn and so keep poachers from slaughtering his stock. (What he'd really like is to keep rhinos from going extinct, but you know, baby steps.) Schwarz and Clusiau follow their stories from the Las Vegas convention where people bid on the particular animal they want to shoot, to an African hut getting searched for the gun that helped a poor poacher take a thousand elephants, to a trophy breeder's killing resort, to a taxidermist who's just glad future generations will get to see what a lion actually looked like, and on and on. They keep the focus on the characters, human and otherwise, and mostly leave the issue to the viewer. By the time the recent media uproar over Cecil the lion makes it to the screen, it looks like a garish showbiz version of the complicated morality at work. The Born Free people sound a worthy lament when they forecast a world where the only safe animal is a profitable animal. But it's hard to dismiss the restoration of entire ecological niches, even if it ultimately serves the primitive rush that comes from killing something really big. Trophy doesn't tell you which side to pick; it's content to show you what they are. (2017) — Matthew Lickona

Rated NR | 1 hour, 48 minutes
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