Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness
This true-crime documentary may seem at first as if it’s an expose of big cats being kept as pets – and until you watch it, you likely have no idea what big business big cats are in the United States – but partway through the first of the seven episodes, you’ll realise that this is, in fact, about the people in the community of big-cat owners. And these are people unlike any you’ve seen on screen before.
Unless, that is, you’re a fan of Joe Exotic’s reality-TV channel, where the owner of a big-cat park expounds his views of his rivals, enemies, husbands (yes, plural), ex-con staff members and his animals. Or of Big Cat Rescue, a “sanctuary” for big cats in Tampa, Florida, run by Carole Baskin, who seems, at first, like the most/only sane person to be interviewed. Or if you’ve heard of the maverick “Doc” Antle, the owner of an exotic-animal zoo who rides around on an African elephant and has recruited upward of four women, described as his “wives”, who idolise him and seem as much a part of his show as the tigers and lions they perform with.
For those genuinely concerned about animal rights, the shots of tigers, lions, leopards, jaguars and more cats in small enclosures, being led around on leashes, and passed around for tourist selfies may be triggering, but directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin do well to steer largely clear of the ethics of owning these animals and using them for profits (and the profits are huge), and instead focus on the intense rivalry between the players in the industry.
IndieWire says, “In addition to having a dream treasure trove of archival footage to help illustrate the many facets of Joe, Carole, Doc and others, Goode and Chaiklin have the unexpected fortune of stumbling upon an unfolding legal case that ensnares multiple people at the center of the series … And even with all the human subjects, the animals are ever-present. Amidst talk of conservation and protection, there’s an unspoken indictment of a self-contained world that can allow some of the behavior that Tiger King documents while still arguing for its own continuation.”
IMDB rating: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 97%