Directed by: Albert Hughes
Written by: Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt (screenplay by), Albert Hughes (story by)
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor Varela, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson
Run Time: 1h 36min
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Family
2 1/2 Frames out of 5
By: Shari K. Green
‘Alpha’ is the story of a boy, Keda (Smit-McPhee), and his chance to prove himself a man, capable of leading his tribe once his father, Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) the chief, passes on. Ultimately, as the title suggests, it’s the story of what it takes to be the Alpha of your tribe, whether in the animal kingdom or human. One season a year, the men of the tribe must venture out and hunt buffalo for skins and food. Keda, still very naïve and innocent, isn’t ready, something you not only realize by his baby face and the fact that he can’t start a fire and gives up easily as he’s being taught but also through his attitude toward not wanting to kill another living creature, whether it helps him live or not. Knowing the importance of passing his knowledge to his son, Tau brings him along to teach him. Though Keda’s regard for animals is what ultimately saves him, he still must see the full picture. In trying to build his confidence, his father says to him, ‘Raise your head and your eyes will follow.’ What will be gained by always being afraid?
The setting is 20,000 years ago in Europe which makes for remarkably beautiful visuals that director Albert Hughes takes full advantage of. In fact, when the story gets a little dry, something surprisingly kept to a minimum for a story with primarily one lead character, he throws in more stunning CGI. When the team of nomads wanders onto the plains, Tau shows the boy markers, initially placed there by their ancestors. These same markers will come in handy when Keda finds himself on his own, having to make his way back home. Early on, we learn that Alpha takes charge of the pack but is always challenged and, just like that, in danger of being removed from the head of the pack. When the inexperienced Keda falls off the edge of a cliff and believed to be dead, his tribe must leave him, and he finally discovers and understands what all the words of wisdom he’s been hearing meant. Alone, with no time to feel sorry for himself, he gets himself off the ledge and starts walking. What then becomes the true heart of the story begins.
Boy turns into man when he has no choice but to use a knife on a wild dog who’s out to kill him for HIS pack. He mends the dog back to good health by feeding it and giving it lifesaving water. Once it’s almost completely healed, Keda becomes the alpha of THEIR little tribe of two by, among other things, eating first. As we suspect they, very impressively through outstanding cinematography and animal training, become ‘best friends’ and learn to help and rely on one another. By the end of their journey to Keda’s home, Keda sports peach fuzz that suggests it took quite a long time to get there.
This timeline is a bit unclear and something that is a bit confusing but the fact that the movie is only 90 minutes long, the pace is good which keeps the story moving so you’ll never have that moment where you wonder, ‘Are they ever going to get there?!’ I enjoyed ‘Alpha’ and believe you will, too. Though it’s a bit violent at times, more hardcore on the animal hunting than I’d prefer (even though death is mostly implied), this is a good family movie and should be seen as such. With the graphics being so intense, it would best if you were able to view it on an Imax screen.