The Ivory Game

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Ivory Game Movie Poster Image
Powerful docu shines light on efforts to save elephants.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 112 minutes

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Strongly advocates for preservation of wildlife. Clearly recounts recent history in which the world's dwindling population of elephants has been decimated by poachers to feed a marketplace eager for the ivory tusks. Serves as a potent reminder of the necessity of conservation organizations along with governmental agencies to regulate and enforce laws that protect endangered species.

Positive role models & representations

Demonstrates the commitment, courage, and resourcefulness of men and women from organizations and government agencies determined to save one of the planet's most revered species. Specific, ethnically diverse individuals are intimately spotlighted, as each illustrates an earnest and relentless belief in their cause.

Violence

Numerous sequences show the devastation committed: elephants' bodies (some headless), grieving members of the herds, bloody tusks. Shots are heard, which indicates that yet another elephant has been killed. Actual filmed scenes of suspenseful undercover operations and authorities chasing poachers, with gunfire and physical altercations. Disturbing shots of stockpiles of ivory tusks.

Sex
Language

An actual filmed undercover operation goes awry on camera, eliciting several uses of "f--k" as the heroes are in increasing danger. One "bastard." 

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Ivory Game, a stunning documentary film, highlights the ongoing devastation of the world's elephant population to supply the ivory market and international efforts to stop that destruction. With images, facts, and figures meant to shock and disturb its viewers (for example, if the current rate of killing continues at the 2015 rate, the African elephant will be extinct in 15 years), and with a close look at committed scientists and authorities who have devoted their lives to making a difference, the film is eye-opening and often sad but also triumphant. The filmmakers have opted not to dwell on the carnage but to balance the tragedy with successful efforts to combat it. Filmed undercover operations provide real suspense -- no reenactments here -- as brave people infiltrate the bands of poachers, smugglers, and black marketers, with considerable risk to themselves. In these scenes, expect chaotic moments, real-life police action, and some gunfire. A few touching sequences show the bodies of the killed animals, the grieving herds they leave behind, and the sorrow of those people who come upon them. One lengthy suspenseful sequence elicits a few "f--ks" from the unnerved participants. Because the film focuses on the positive steps being taken to fight back on the elephants' and the planet's behalf, it's both disturbing and enlightening, as well as inspiring. The film is best for mature teens and up.

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What's the story?

With stops in Kenya, Zambia, China, Uganda, Tanzania, and Vietnam, THE IVORY GAME covers the near-extinction of the African elephant in the name of commerce and art. It's an all-encompassing journey, with informative, relevant material delivered throughout. Intercut with shots of the magnificent animal and the touching relationships within its species are the men and women who are trying to stop the slaughter. Richard Ladkani and Kief Davidson, the two directors, interview and follow the dedicated men and women who risk all to make a difference. Culprits are exposed and pursued; Shetani, the most notorious killer of elephants, is vigorously tracked. Undercover agents with hidden cameras are placed in scary situations. Cameras stay very close to law enforcement personnel on raids in which the true-life villains are the targets. The filmmakers are present when farmers, angry at the elephants' destruction of land and crops, face off against the animals' would-be protectors. And somehow, with many disparate events and personalities in focus, the filmmakers have managed to blend the elements, giving the movie a satisfying beginning, middle, and end.

Is it any good?

By spotlighting devoted folks who have made saving the African elephant their life's work, this film team has made what might've been an overwhelmingly sad film into an accessible, inspirational one. The Ivory Game, with its courageous subjects and very brave crew, is suspenseful and exciting, as well. It doesn't get any more up-close and personal than hand-held cameras moving through the scene as some very bad people are chased and captured. Though the devastation and exploitation of one of the earth's most astonishing creatures continues, films like this one and organizations that use every means at hand to make the public aware of the elephants' plight seem to have struck a chord. As of late 2016, it appears that even countries that formerly turned a blind eye to the tragic proportions of the slaughter are coming to the table. Beautifully shot, emotionally satisfying, and eminently personal, this film is highly recommended. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the various purposes of documentary films: to educate, entertain, persuade, and/or inspire. Which of these are in play in The Ivory Game? What did you, personally, take away from this film?

  • Why is it important for people to be aware of events such as those shown in this movie? Were you aware of the connection between the ivory sold for jewelry, chopsticks, handles, and art objects and the destruction of the world's elephants? Even if you can't personally affect change, how does the awareness affect you?

  • Though elephants are the most sought-after animals by the ivory trade, what other species are killed for their tusks? Find out about other animals or natural resources that are endangered because of exploitation by humans. 

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