Trophy (4 stars)


Well-conceived, thoughtful documentary that takes a complex look at big-game hunting

This documentary from Shaul Schwarz and co-director Christina Clusiau about big-game hunting begins in arresting fashion: a rhino is captured, and hunters quickly and mechanically remove the animal's horn with an electric saw. Within seconds, the owner of the ranch, John Hume, arrives to explain that by removing the horn, he's actually saving an endangered species from poachers. Not everyone accepts Hume's logic, and that's just the start of the complex web of environmental issues that Trophy addresses.

Schwarz and Clusiau's film deals, for the first hour or so, in an even-handed way with the arguments involved. Virtually everyone interviewed feels that their position is misunderstood. Dedicated big-game hunters like Philip Glass argue that their actions fall under the heading of conservation. Furthermore, by paying for his experience, Glass also believes he's contributing to the local economy, and some of the locals agree. Hume complains that his mission to save the rhino is compromised because he can't legally sell the horns; he thinks that the ban on sales drives the price upwards and makes the poor rhino even more endangered.

The animals don't get the chance to offer an opinion beyond shock and surprise of course; distressingly, Trophy doesn't hold back from depicting the agonising death throes of elephants, lions and other creatures. But only after considering the notorious execution of 'Cecil the lion' by a dentist in 2015 does the choice of material reveal how the filmmakers themselves feel about the arguments.

With Tom Hardy among the executive producers, Trophy is a well-conceived, thoughtful documentary that dodges knee-jerk, emotive responses in favour of rigorous investigation. The hunting scenes may not be for the fainthearted, but they are necessary given the context. This powerful film is an absolute must for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of the issues involved.

Limited release from Fri 17 Nov.


  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • USA / UK / Namibia / South Africa / Zimbabwe
  • 1h 45min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Christina Clusiau, Shaul Schwarz
  • UK release: 17 November 2017

Documentary about big-game hunting, examining claims by hunters that legalised hunting helps the local economy, and by ranch owners that the ban on legal sale of rhino horn keeps poachers in operation. Well-conceived, thoughtful, powerful and sometimes distressing, dodging knee-jerk responses in favour of rigorous…