By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
With gorgeous visuals and beautiful and poignant beats, Albert Hughes’s sentimental film, which offers a fictionalized depiction of humanity’s first relationship with dogs, is sure to become a moderate crowd-pleaser. Though the movie does have its magical moments, it does run a little too long by wasting too much time and tries to hard to be sweet with a ham-fisted feel-good conclusion. Nevertheless, I overall enjoyed Alpha, probably because of my fondness for dogs. Still, one doesn’t have to be a canine admirer to have a soft spot for this often lovely movie.
Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as Keda, a teen “early man” who has begun the rigorous rites of passage to become a hunter like the other men of his tribe. Keda’s father and tribe leader Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) feels his son is ready to become a hunter and brings him along for the next hunting expedition. When Tau leads the group into their first attack on a herd of bison, Keda gets forced off a cliff and is presumed dead. After the tribe mournfully departs, Keda awakens with a fractured foot and must attempt to find his way home. The trip proves to be an arduous and harrowing journey, but along the way, he manages to earn the trust and friendship of an injured wolf who escorts Keda through his hazardous journey home.
With a screenplay witten by Daniele Sebastian and Wiedenhaupt, based on a story by the film’s director Albert Hughes, Alpha proves to be a mostly riveting and poignant movie that celebrates the bond between human and dog. Hughes’s cinematographer Martin Gschlacht and his CGI crew have created a beautiful feast for the eyes that helps to bring this heartfelt tale to life. The movie does get a little redundant and long-winded in some moments, but the lovely relationship created between Keda and his pet wolf Alpha will keep audiences invested.
As the protagonist, Kodi Smit-Mcphee offers a great performance with much heart and innocent vulnerability. As Keda’s father Tau, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson gives an emotional and charismatic turn. The movie also features good and solid work by Leonor Varela, Jens Hultén, Natassia Malthe, and Mercedes de la Zerda.
Though this movie has its weaknesses, I still feel it is worthy of at least one theatrical viewing. The impressive visuals and intense sequences make this film worth at least the price of a matinee. The movie’s genuine heart, though, is what will keep audiences wanting to possibly see it again at home. The violence may be too intense for younger viewers, but will be appropriate for families with teenagers and their dogs.