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Review: ‘The Ivory Game’ warning: Elephants will be extinct in 15 years

‘The Ivory Game’
An elephant and wilderbeast in the documentary “The Ivory Game.”
(Tobias Corts / Netflix)

According to the globetrotting nonfiction thriller “The Ivory Game,” at the rate that elephants are being slaughtered, they’ll be extinct within 15 years. The thought of a world without them is hard to bear, and the investigative film manages to generate a reasonable sliver of hope — and will perhaps inspire activism — while sounding the alarm of dire emergency.

Directors Richard Ladkani and Kief Davidson focus on East Africa, where most of the matriarchal pachyderms live and, increasingly, die at the hands of poachers, and Asia, where a polished and painted tusk can fetch a third of a million dollars. Nail-biting action sequences, some more edifying than others, follow on-the-ground efforts, sometimes in the thick of night, to locate the head of a poaching syndicate. The grim economic realities behind such trafficking are glancingly acknowledged.

There’s real impact, though, in the anger and grief of law enforcement officials and conservationists when their tracking leads them to elephant carcasses. The cameras avoid the goriest angles of the mutilated animals, but the horror is amplified as the film moves from the savannas of Kenya and Tanzania to display windows in Hong Kong showcasing carved ivory curios.

Among the film’s many heroic figures, a young Chinese journalist, Hongxiang Huang, is particularly affecting as he goes undercover on the black market, risking discovery by triad operatives to document a sickening assortment of luxury items, wolf skins and butterfly wings among the raw materials. Back in Africa, piles of confiscated tusks stand as heartbreaking memorial, and a call to action.

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‘The Ivory Game’ 

In English and Swahili with English subtitles

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes 

Playing: Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena

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