“Lords Of Dogtown” Strikes An Appealing Anti-Establishment Chord

Heath Ledger and Emile Hirsch turn in strong performances amongst the crashing waves, drained swimming pools and sun-bleached colour palette of Catherine Hardwicke’s Lords of Dogtown.

Exec produced by David Fincher and directed by Catherine Hardwicke of Twilight fame, Lords of Dogtown charts the rise of skateboarding from counterculture pastime to a recognised global sport worth millions. It came in the wake of 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z Boys, itself written and directed by screenwriter and central character Stacy Peralta. What became painfully clear to me was that dramatic licence had stripped Hardwicke’s film of passion.

By which I mean these characters seem dispassionate and the tension which is depicted on screen although genuine seems less than engaging. Peralta’s documentary on the other hand is a metaphorical call to arms, involving all the major players who seem as driven and talk unguardedly about a time they still hold dear. Hardwicke’s selection of actors who in the main resemble their real life counterparts, added authenticity but somehow detaches you from the stylistic flourishes on display. Colours are oversaturated, camera moves are inventive but sometimes distracting, while performances are reminiscent of Cameron Crowe’s Almost FamousHeath Ledger and Emile Hirsch are stand outs amongst a troupe of actors which strangely include a very young Elden Henson, who has been doing a sterling job as Foggy Nelson in Daredevil lately.

Given the director and cast my hopes for this cult transfer to Blu-ray were very high. I knew nothing about skateboarding historically, culturally or otherwise. My interest was purely in Hardwicke, Ledger and Hirsch. Her opener for the Twilight franchise remains the only one I can watch and enjoy, with its washed colour palette, understated performances and mere hints of vampirism. Ledger is sorely missed perpetually in the ‘what if’ column of film history, an actor who was developing a solid portfolio of individual characters and destined for greatness. As for Hirsch it is his performance for Into The Wild which gave me that final reason to explore this film.

To be honest Lords of Dogtown is not a bad film at all and I understand how it gained a cult following. Thematically the anti-establishment stance will resonate with each new generation that discovers it, while teenagers and twenty-somethings can gain kudos through knowledge or ownership. For everyone else there is Ledger and Hirsch to enjoy, giving us solid turns amongst the crashing waves, drained swimming pools and sun-bleached colour palette. If I had any advice for newcomers it would be to watch the documentary before its dramatisation. It provides context, gives perspective and elevates an average film with a cult subject, into a good film with universally acknowledged social impact.