The connection shared between a human being and their dog has been in existence for thousands of years. It is unlike any other, it is a one of a kind connection, unbelievable loyalty, genuine love and friendship shared by owner and pet. Because of this special bond, that so many of us can relate to, it has been showcased in too many movies to count. Alpha stands out because it explores the origins of this great relationship.
Set amongst the landscapes of Europe some 20,000 years ago, is a small tribe preparing for their hunting season. As they prepare we are introduced to the tribe’s leader and his son, Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who will be joining the hunting party. On their journey and in preparation for the future, his father takes every opportunity to share his knowledge with Keda and instructs him on how to survive. During a hunt, a wild buffalo attacks Keda, throws him off a high cliff and sadly the tribe is forced to leave him for dead. It is only after he suddenly awakes that his journey truly begins. Completely alone with no way to survive, he must try to find his way home.
The first quarter of Alpha is strong. Screenwriters, Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt (screenplay by) and Albert Hughes (story by), flawlessly incorporated more than one theme within the film. The most noticeable and strongest theme throughout is survival. As you can imagine, Keda comes across a number of obstacles on his journey home. To their credit, the writers made a point (in a way that feels natural) to show the audience that Keda was inexperienced. His father expressed several times that he was unsure that Keda could prove himself capable to one day lead their tribe. They cleverly used his father to point out how the stars and stone columns made by their ancestors could guide him in the right direction, even something so small as his inability to start a fire was shown. Bravery and courage are important elements in strong storytelling and especially in a story that so closely resembles a story of self-discovery. All of this makes the audience more engaged.
Along the way Keda is stalked by a pack of wolves. One of the wolves attacks him and in an attempt to defend himself, he badly injures the wolf. His relationship with the wolf becomes the central theme of this movie. Using his relationship with the wolf, Alpha, as a way to demonstrate to the audience that he is capable of being a strong, compassionate leader is an interesting way of telling a story that a lot of us are probably already familiar with. In a movie that I assumed would focus on the relationship between a young man and his dog, there turned out to be more going on than what appears on the surface.
There‘s a lot to like about this film but the worst part is the pacing. These days a runtime of 96 minutes is extremely rare, however it feels like you’re watching for two hours, maybe even more. The pacing works in the beginning but noticeably slows down for the remainder of the time. Where Alpha shines is in the cinematography. The best part is showcased within the first five minutes. The cinematography is simply beautiful. For the duration of the movie there are multiple shots sweeping across the earth that allow for the images to appear almost dreamlike. The earth truly looks untouched and therefore adds to the overall experience.
Something else that adds to the experience is the cast of relatively unknown actors. It helps to create a sense of real people even though almost everything about their lives isn’t relatable for us today. There isn’t much in the way of performances since a majority of the film is spent with only Keda and Alpha. Kodi Smit-McPhee gives a very solid performance and that’s about it. In addition to his interactions with Alpha, his performance is very physical which he does well but it’s not as compelling as it probably should have been. Considering that I’ve only seen him in a few fairly small roles, I wasn’t sure how he would be as a lead but he did a good job.
Don’t hate me but I’m not a dog person and therefore I have a bias when it comes to “dog movies”. When I first saw this trailer I remember rolling my eyes. I’m happy to say that I was completely wrong! It might not be the most enjoyable movie as summer comes to a close but it is enjoyable. Alpha has a lot going for it and was much better than I expected it to be.
3 out of 5 stars
Director: Albert Hughes Writers: Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt & Albert Hughes Starring: Kodi Smit-Mchpee, Morgan Freeman & Natassia Malthe Release Date: August 17th Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 1 hour and 36 minutes Image Credit: Imdb