Lords of Dogtown
Film review by: Witney Seibold
I have never seen a skateboard stunt performed, live, without error. Every young boy (and they’re usually young boys) I have seen on the street attempts, and usually falters, in doing an axle or ollie or late-360 shoved to boneless or whatever names those stunts have. On film, however, I have seen some of the most spectacular stunts performed by experts who have been honing their skills. I do not diss skateboarding in the least, and actually feel, now that snowboarding has been allowed in the Olympic Winter Games, that it is high time for skateboarding to be allowed to decorate the Summer. Sadly, in Catherine Hardwicke’s new film, detailing the rise of the young men who became the first skateboard celebrities in the late 1970s, feels less like an urgent rise of people on the cutting edge of a difficult and anarchic new sport, and more like watching those kids on the street constantly screwing up.
The four stars to be are Stacey (John Robinson from Elephant), Jay (Emile Hirsch looking in certain shots a little bit too much like Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange), Sid (Michael Angarano, looking by all means too young), and Tony (Victor Rasuk). They start out in Venice, CA a.k.a. Dogtown (as it was more of an abandoned slum in the 1970s), and, though passion for boarding (it was seen as supremely uncool to hold a job) and a series of wins in local tourneys, they rose to fame. One became a good-hearted entrepreneur, one a feckless punk, one a cancer victim, and one a cocky prowling turk. Nikki Reed appears as a put-upon girlfriend, and Johnny Knoxville, an actor I’m inexplicably liking more and more, appears as a boarding mogul.
Director Hardwicke made the hit thirteen (with actress Reed), and tries to apply the same emotionally urgent and mostly improvised style to the proceedings in Dogtown with, unfortunately, little success. The dull script and old-time story did not hold under the weight of the style. The characters, in trying to seem immediate, never really grew or became clear, but remained broad types, only coming to life in fits and starts. The one actor who fared exceedingly well was a nearly-unrecognizable Heath Ledger in the role of the boys’ berating coach/idol. He gives an impassioned performance, and loses himself in the character. He stood out. I wish I could say that about the film entire.