“Alpha” stars Kodi Smit-McPhee, Leonor Varela, Jens Hultén, and Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson. Released on August 17, 2018, the film is about a young hunter who befriends an injured wolf while trying to find his way home.
The film is directed by Albert Hughes, who directed films like “Menace II Society”, “From Hell”, and “The Book of Eli” with Allen Hughes. Ever wonder where the term “man’s best friend” came from? You want to know how the first bond between man and canine came to be? Then look no further than the film I’ll be talking about today. Originally planned for a September 2017 release, the historical adventure drama faced several date changes to avoid getting crushed by some tough competition. Most people thought it would never see the light of day, including me, until it finally settled for a late summer release. Now that it’s here, was it worth the wait?
The story takes place during the Upper Paleolithic period, where a group of hunters struggle to survive the dangers that surround them every day and night. One day, a disastrous hunting expedition separates the young man named Keda (Smit-McPhee) from his tribe, and he now must journey across the dangerous land in order to reunite with his family. During his quest, he forms a bond with a wolf, who is also separated from its tribe. One major thing that you should know about this film is that the characters only speak in their native language with English subtitles appearing at the bottom of the screen. Think of it as an international film that’s made in the United States by a major Hollywood studio. If you prefer watching a movie without being distracted by the subtitles, this one might not be able to win you over. This is Albert Hughes’ first solo directorial effort without the assistance of his brother, Allen Hughes, and I have to say, I was really impressed at what he’s accomplished. It’s not a perfect theatrical experience, but if you’re looking for an enjoyable tale about a friendship between a man and a wolf, this one should be able to warm your heart with ease. This is a suitable example of how style and substance can come together to form a visually appealing and engaging film without relying on one thing over the other. While the film is about the bond between man and wolf, it’s also about Keda and the trials he must overcome to earn his place as leader. It’s not a strong representation of the film’s central theme, but it offered enough character depth to make me want him to succeed. Kodi Smit-McPhee delivered an amazing performance as Keda. Probably his best in his acting career so far, in my opinion. The film’s visual style has plenty of perks that were well-executed, like the cinematography and the production design. Albert Hughes didn't treat this style as some sort of a gimmick. He used it to emphasize the story he wanted to tell, which is one of the important things that filmmakers should know about when attempting to make a film that offers both style and substance. One of the issues that left me concerned is the film’s pacing. It’s not as slow as watching paint dry, but it is slow enough to put some young viewers to sleep despite some of the intense stuff that is shown in the film. I was engaged from start to finish, but the way the film moves might leave some people puzzled, especially those who wanted a fast-paced adventure. There were also some moments where the film’s use of CGI didn’t quite match well with its stunning backgrounds and its beautiful wide angles. I can understand why they went with that route for the safety of the actors, but they could at least study the CGI effects a couple more times during the editing phase.
Overall, “Alpha” is a visual marvel that relies on both style and substance to create a stunning portrait of history’s first bond between man and canine. While its pacing and CGI hiccups may prevent people from embarking on this perilous journey, the charming friendship between the main characters is enough to leave dog lovers howling for more. Thanks to Smit-McPhee’s captivating performance, its visual style, and its solid storytelling, the film is a gorgeous late summer surprise. If you enjoy films that involve “man’s best friend”, this is worth checking out.
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