I think this film gets a star knocked off as a penalty for its disappointment. I like Dakota Fanning in her dramatic roles more than her saccharine family comedies, and David Morse is always extraordinary. But there are so many flaws in this film that I almost can't get my head around all of them. First - the snakes. The opening credits, the connective tissue, and a supporting character are all obsessed with these menacing, phallic creatures slithering this way and that, and the image gets to be a tired, worn cliche by the end of the film if it wasn't already a cliche before the first frame.
Second, David Morse's character begins the film as a force, a menace, an ever-present threat, and if you've seen or heard any press for this film, then you know why it's "controversial," and you're probably expecting Morse to be the source of the controversy, which would a scene of such brutality, such a mismatched mesh of horror - Fanning with her slight demeanor and Morse the towering giant. But midway through the first act, Daddy is struck by lightning. Yes, you read that right: he's struck by lightning. And the source of the film's dooming, gothic ambiance is turned into a simple, bowl-cutted idiot.
Finally, Robin Wright Penn's character begins the film as a passing stranger, but I can almost hear the writers, midway through the third act, thinking, "Hmm: maybe we should take her character seriously."
Yes, Fanning is wonderful, adapting to the damaged Lewellen like the fantastic actress she already is (I can't imagine what a force she might become), and Morse does his best with what he's been given, but overall, this is truly bad storytelling and even worse filmmaking.
Well, obviously it is not a nice topic, a coming of age story about a young girl, played by Dakota Fanning, who's lives with her alcoholic father, who may or may not be abusive, and her extremely religious Grandmother who is just oblivious to a lot of things. Music is her outlet and when she hears Elvis is coming to town, her and a friend come up with a questionable plan to score tickets, which leads to a tragedy.
Dakota, as always is fantastic. I have a whole new respect for her as an actress after watching this, although I have always liked her. She plays plucky Lewellen with such strength and truth that this almost ends up being an inspiring story. (Almost).
[font=Century Gothic]Take "Hounddog" for instance. Would I be wrong to say that this is a picturesque allegory which brings to mind the Garden of Eden? It is 1960 in Alabama where Lewellen(Dakota Fanning) is in a blissful state of childhood where she worships Elvis Presley while spending most days playing with her best friend Buddy(Cody Hanford). She also hangs out at the house of her father(David Morse) who has just gotten a new girlfriend(Robin Wright Penn). So, it comes as no surprise that she is excited when she hears that Elvis is coming to town...[/font]
[font=Century Gothic]But there are snakes, both literal and figurative. Her friend Charles(Afemo Omilami) looks out for the literal kind, milking the poisonous ones for antivenin. And there are the figurative ones like Lewellen's strict grandmother(Piper Laurie) who rails against rock and roll music as the devil's work.(Hopefully, we have come far enough in the past fifty years for dancing to be considered an outlet for expression, and nothing sexual.) What is truly evil is the cycle of abuse happening in front of everybody and is just accepted as a natural fact. This includes racism of course and this is where the blues come in as a reaction against that. [/font]
Not a whole lot in the way of narrative focus can be found, for although this film isn't, well, that other type of experimental indie filmmaking that I mentioned earlier, where it drifts along quietly and lyrically, it goes bloated by filler, as well as plot points that string too organically together, to the point dissipating build, and by extension, intrigue after a while. It doesn't help that the film is not only steady in structure, but in atmosphere, being surprisingly not being all that dull, yet still not too terribly far away from that point, as it limps along dryly with little bite and limited livliness in the atmosphere, rarely, if ever to where you're left all that bored, yet decidedly to where it's easy to fall out of the film, as it tends to drag its feet a bit too much, both in story structure and atmospheric execution. Again, the film doesn't limp along quite as much as I expected it to, though pull back on the sighs of relief, as this film still stands to pick up the pace a bit, which is no more than what you can say about a lot of southern-gothic indie dramas of this type, and therein lays yet another complaint, as this film is nothing if not faithful to its type, in that it plummets into many story tropes and conventions within this genre that have been done to death, which of course makes the film predictable, as well as supplementary to the limiting of the film's intrigue and subtlety, both of which are pretty limited to begin with. Now, the consensus describes the film as "overwrought" and "downright exploitative", and really, I wouldn't say that this film is nearly that unsubtle, or even all that ceaselessly unsubtle to begin, as its tackling of plot points that could go the way of either subtle or unsubtle is an event that is surprisingly in short supply. However, while the film is never anything along the lines of "exploitative" in its unsubtlety, when we do hit those either hit or miss moments of potentially subtle dramatic depth - whether it be the struggles of David Morse's Lou character or "that" notorious scene -, the film slips up, not quite taking all that major of a plunge into the essence of the drama, but instead laying down more cliches and even a bit of sentimentality, leaving the dramatic note to miss more than hit, and never hit as hard as the should when they do connect. To my surprise, the story to this film doesn't seem terribly worthy, partially because we've seen it all done before, and done better, so it's not like there's a whole lot to be disappointed with, yet the film does stand to hit harder, preferably while heading in a different direction. However, at the end of the day, the film is, at least to me, far from the disaster critics claim it to be, for although the film is much too considerably flawed to reward, I found it to be a generally enjoyable watch, partially because "that" notorious scene comes in late and is actually relatively tamed quite a bit, and largely because the film isn't without its fair share of strengths.
This film is so conventional that even its should-be unique cinematography looks familiar, yet at least I remember this type of cinematography as good-looking, so sure enough, Jim Denault provides depth in the film's coloring, giving it an attractive livliness, married with a degree of dramatic bleakness, to supplement the tone of the story, and there is plenty of depth, or at least potential depth in the story to supplement. Again, this story is a highly conventional one, and one that's not even all that terribly worthy to begin with, though it remains a compelling tale whose concept on paper is better than this film's execution, yet remains nevertheless compelling enough to where there is a degree of immediate intrigue. The structure and execution of the story isn't strong enough to fully flesh out this intrigue, yet that moderate engagement value remains consistently workmanlike, holding a certain charm about that's actually ameloriated by much of the filler, which may slow down the bite of the substance, but still gives us enough of a chance to bond with these characters and their stories, maybe not as much as we should, yet still enough for the film to not lose you too often. Director, writer and co-producer Deborah Kampmeier's ambition is palpable, though perhaps too much so, to the point of creating overambition that hazes her good intentions, which were already hurt from the get-go by the film's being so highly conventional and sometimes unsubtle, yet the fact of the matter is that Kampmeier has her heart in this film, and firmly enough for it to maybe not hit nearly as much as it should, yet still have a charm and reasonable degree of spirit to it, elevated by the charming performances within the reasonably strong cast, from which at least two standouts emerge as particularly strong, or at least when they have something to do. David Morse feels rather underused, and when does arrive, the writing and direction of the film restrains the effectiveness of Morse's performance by either giving Morse surprisingly little to do or giving Morse some of the film's most sentimental material, which makes light of his Lou characters' situations as a struggling loving father, alcoholic and, eventually, victim an unfortunate and life-altering accident. However, where Morse could have succumb to the not-so-competent filmmaking and come off as too artificial as a hardly all that necessary supporting character, he ultimately triumphs and transcends his retraints, conveying the love and pain of the Lou character, particularly once the accident occurs and presents Morse something of an acting challenge, which he manages to pull off more believably than the script establishes it to be. Morse helps in giving this film some life and steals the show when given the opportunity, much like the also underused yet notably immensely charming Afemo Omilami as the generic wise and mystical black man (Like I said, this film gets really cliche), yet at the end of the day, this is Dakota Fanning's show, and she holds her own as well as you would expect her to, being given only so much material to work with, yet boasting a consistent presence of both strength and innocence that makes our primary Lewellen character a charming one, while the more emotional moments in Fanning's performances carry this film's dramatic weight, maybe too far, considering the lack of punch in the script and direction, but far enough for the film to engage and for Fanning to offer further evidence of her talent, particularly during the final act that succeeds "that" notorious scene and presents Fanning with more material, which she uses to make the final act of the film reasonably moving, even if it does get to be a bit manipulative, which isn't to say that Fanning isn't consistently strong enough to carry a film this flawed and help in making it reasonably enjoyable to those willing to stick with it through all of the faults in the execution of its ambition.
Overall, the film pulls the old southern-gothic indie drama trick of limping along with a draggy and not too comfortably structured storyline, made worse by the slowness that may not be terribly severe, yet remains as present here as it is in many other films of this type, which isn't to say that the conventions end there, as the film collapses into trope after trop and establishes predictability, further pronounced by the lack of subtlety that helps in making this film an underwhelming one, yet hardly the disaster many claim it to be, as it is well-shot enough to catch your eye, with a story that may be conventional and not especially well-told, yet remains strong enough in concept to reasonably charm when it needs to most and have some degree of flesh-out, made all the more effective by the charming performances, the strongest of which being by a show-stealing David More and show-owning Dakota Fanning, who carries "Hounddog" and helps in making it a watchable coming-of-age tale, even if it has been done time and time again, and typically better.
2.5/5 - Fair
I feel like this movie doesn't really have a point except to say that this world has a lot of crap in it and you just have to shake it off and move on. Your dad is a drunk and beats you, your mom isn't in the picture, you're dirt poor and live in an area where snakes are rampant and one bite will kill you, and to top it all off, your boyfriend likes another girl and he watches you get raped.
This movie had such potential to be GREAT. But it just failed. It's too bad too because Dakota Fanning is such a talented actress and her costars were also talented.
Even though this movie was a tad bit heavy-handed, there are incredible visuals of the rural south in the 1950s. I love the costumes and sets and the music and the sounds of cicadas and crickets put me right there in the era.
Hounddog is basically, to put it bluntly, a coming-of-age tale that doesn't have much of anything meaningful to say.
This film was released in 2008 and thanks to the American "morality police" condemning it for child sexual exploitation-it slid under the radar. A shame really, because the little girl from I am Sam has grown up and evolved into a very competent actor with great emotional range and such potential...
The controversy over the film in preproduction resulted in the morality police succeeding in having it pulled from several theatres.The irony being that there is no sexually explicit/exploitative content but that does'nt matter to the bigots who condemned it because most did'nt even see it in all liklihood...
I recommend it despite the weakness of the film in general. The most interesting relationship the character has is with an aging black man who is her friend and protector and a blues man. At one point ,he asks her when she is going to get into the blues. She responds by saying that she can't sing the blues because she is'nt black. Well, ultimately her rendition of Hounddog becomes legitimate blues as she tries to come to terms with her victimization and familial deprivation- all thanks to the gentle benevolence of her black mentor. Cliched all to hell but watch the film for Fanning's performance.
I got in trouble a while back with my contention that Malle's Pretty Baby was seually eploitative of a very young Brooke Shield's. My position remains unchanged but this film showed how sensitive subject matter can be dealt with tastefully without exploitation.
This movie also proves that Dakota Fanning can out act the best of Hollywood. She is a true talent.
The movie is so real and so raw that I think it scared the people who didn't put it in theaters. People don't want to open their eyes to a reality, or in some sense of a reality that used to be. This is a moving film that should be watched by everyone, especially ones that feel that they have no where to turn.