The Ivory Game is a powerful, important and thrillingly-told documentary which exposes the tragic realities of the ivory trade which still persists today. A trade which is not just continuing, but by its very nature, is now threatening to wipe out the entire population of the largest land mammals on the planet. Because, as elephants head further towards extinction, the value of the ivory tusks that they are being poached for grows ever higher. The Ivory Game serves to shine a light on many of the realities, such as this fact, most of us likely weren’t even aware of, and in the process, positions itself as an important part of a social movement against this barbaric trade.
The film is both carried by its edit and slightly held back by it. It comes across, very much, like a Tony Scott thriller in the most part. With fancy map and title graphics frequently employed throughout. But it does complement the action onscreen – and it truly is ‘action’, with the filmmakers so closely embedded in the events which are unfolding. These include following African government officials’ anti-poaching operations (including live busts); undercover ‘agents’ operating on missions in China and various other parts of Asia; land and air reconnaissance, and political lobbying. It helps to keep the average viewer engaged throughout, but there are times when it does come across as trying to be a bit too slick and blatant in its emotional scenes. Such as when we witness the burning of Kenya’s stockpile of ivory with sad African music playing over the top along with the sounds of the flames. A more powerful way to covey this scene would have perhaps been in silence, or at least without the music – which does actually come at the end.
You come out of the experience realising that there are a handful of people in the world just as magnificent as the elephants that they are attempting to protect.
Still, better that than to create a documentary which doesn’t grip. And all in all, you come out of the experience realising that there are a handful of people in the world just as magnificent as the elephants that they are attempting to protect. Willing to risk it all for their love of this endangered species. The filmmakers themselves being involved in that risk.
The Ivory Game is successful as a social movement film. Being powerful, thrilling and largely well-constructed, it could well open many people’s eyes to the tragic realities of the modern-day ivory trade. Directors Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani should be commended, along with all of those involved in its production. We just hope, however, that Netflix considers going for as wide an audience as possible by releasing it for free and without the need for a subscription. It could certainly get people talking more about the issue; otherwise it might struggle to find the audience which it so deserves.