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Movie Review: Trophy
78%Overall Score
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Trophy begins with two moments that present the intricacies and conflicting beliefs in the wildlife hunting industry. The first shows a father and son hunting deer, passing on a tradition that this family has shared for generations. The next shows a group of people drugging, then cutting off the horn of a rhino, escaping before the rhino can retaliate. Neither of these people or their stories are what they initially seem, both with such strong viewpoints that makes a black-or-white opinion on hunting a near impossibility. Trophy isn’t so much a evenhanded dive into the hunting industry, but rather an examination of a battle with an overwhelming amount of sides and opinions that makes any simple solution an impossibility.

Trophy’s two main plots come from the aforementioned groups. Phillip Glass – the hunting father – has a love of animals that stretches back to childhood, yet he still has an inherent desire to want to kill the animals he is fascinating by. As a child, his mother told him he could shoot any birds but the red birds, which he of course went to shoot, later claiming that no one could’ve loved that dead bird as much as he did. Glass intends to go after the ultimate hunter’s goal – The Big Five: buffalo, leopard, elephant, lion, and rhino.

The group of people who sawed off the rhino’s horn are led by John Hume, a rhino breeder in Africa who cuts off the horn of rhinos so that poachers won’t kill the animals. An act which seems cruel out of context is instead a way to save the lives of the rhino. Despite owning millions of dollars worth of rhino horns, Hume cannot sell them in order to fund his operation. Hume has put millions into his cause and sold a majority of his assets to protect the rhino, and now petitions for rhino horn selling to be legal as a way to continue the preservation of the animal.

Through their directing, Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau present each side with a multitude of layers, a choice that intentionally frustrates. It’s easy to demonize Glass – especially in moments when he insults those who believe in evolution, or uses his religion as rationale for hunting big game – yet when we see him kill an animal and he cries tears of joy and beauty, it’s clear that he truly believes what he states. For someone like Glass, this isn’t an act of cruelty, it’s a way to observe God’s creation in the way he believes his Creator intended.

Schwarz and Clusiau present its subjects with such a careful hand that when people indulge in truly savage acts for the sake of their own enjoyment, the guttural reaction is even more intense. When Trophy delves deeper into the hunting industry, the act of killing is turned into an antiseptic experience, one that for the people who spend thousands to destroy an animal, will hopefully be a relaxing and easy experience. Animals are held down for hunters to shoot close up with sniper rifles, or catch a quick smoke break while they wait for an elephant to take its last gasping breaths. Those who run hunting expeditions quickly wipe away any signs of blood and violence away with sand and water so their customers can have a photo souvenir of their kill. The carelessness and lack of compassion in these people is staggering when compared to the duality of most the film’s subjects.

Acting as both directors and cinematographers, Schwatz and Clusiau shoot African vistas full of beauty and gorgeous landscapes, despite that these views might include a mutilated animal. Their style allows them into intimate moments of the hunt – without causing a stir to lose the shot – but with drone technology, can give them a greater view of these incidents from above. This allows their work in Trophy to become personal, while never hiding from the grandiosity of their story’s depth.

Unfortunately with some of their threads, Schwatz and Clusiau spread themselves too thin trying to hit too many different ideas. A Las Vegas hunting convention and animal auctions are brought up without little pay off, and one group of conservationists who use intimidation on African villagers doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Trophy needs either more focus on a few well told arcs, or more time to give each of these stories their due.

Trophy, at its simplest, is a film about differences in viewpoints and how one man’s passion can be another man’s horror. For example, Glass mentions that there’s a huge build up to a hunt, then after the kill, it’s like an emotional switch goes off that is overpowering for him. Later on, one of the conservationists mentions this same switch after killing an animal, which makes him sick, and questions how such a feeling could become a passion for a hunter. Trophy shows that both men are understandable in their reactions to such an incident, it’s just a matter of intent and belief that gives them such shockingly different opinions of the same moment. This film puts a face to the hunter, the poacher, and the conservationist. It’s just not always the villain or hero that one might expect.

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