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Overall Rating

Awesome: 4.76%
Worth A Look: 28.57%
Average: 4.76%
Pretty Bad: 28.57%
Total Crap33.33%

3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Dakota’s Performance Enough To Make You Forget That Other Stuff"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Controversy is a funny beast. It manifests sometimes out of nothing but someone’s own desire to start some crap. In that way it’s not unlike the local drunk at the bar who doesn’t know what he’s saying but is determined to make sure you hear it. The hubbub over Hounddog started with the first report that 12 year-old ingénue Dakota Fanning was going to be filming a scene in which she is raped. Adjectives in front of “raped” probably followed in further reports along with speculation that this was little more than a callous Oscar push by an eager showbiz mom. None of these journalists, of course, had a chance to see the film until its premiere at Sundance – where it was coldly referred to as the “Dakota Fanning Rape Project.” After laying my own eyes on it and acknowledging many of its flaws, there’s certainly more going for it than the 20 seconds to make Nancy Grace’s eyes bulge to Total Recall proportions.

Sometime in the 1950s at the height of Elvis’ popularity there was a young girl named Lewellen (Dakota Fanning) who worshipped him. Perhaps the only escape from her Southern gothic existence with hints of parental abuse, Lewellen loves throwing herself into the King’s shoes and thrusting her hips to the proud delight of her daddy (David Morse) whom she announces her intentions to kill one day in the opening scene. Her Granny is one step away from being Carrie White’s mother (and just so happens to be played by Piper Laurie.) But there are also allies in the form of best friend, Buddy (Cody Hanford), a black horse trainer (Afemo Omilami) across the way and the “strange lady” (Robin Wright Penn) whom daddy was giving the black snake moan too.

The first sign of biblical interference comes when daddy gets his own “tractor story” thanks to a bolt of lightning that throws him off like something out of The Mask. Whatever past sins he’s being punished for, they must have been pretty extreme to turn him into a childlike vegetable of his former self; a symptom I’ve never associated with such an injury. Maybe because I get all my lightning strike knowledge from Caddyshack and The Great Outdoors. All kidding aside, Lewellen instantly switches her tune to caregiver and the added attention at home could only intensify her desire to see her idol who is coming to town for a show, one which Buddy promises he can get tickets for from his brother.

The pre-knowledge of what’s to come will already have a numbing effect on the scene that’s meant to be a horrific shock. Dispensing of everyone’s graphic imagination, the scene itself lasts all of about 20 seconds focusing strictly on Dakota’s face, her hand and the reactions of others, so no worries that you’re walking into an Accused or Irreversible situation. Probably more disturbing both to the naysayers and casual observers will be the manner in which Dakota’s Lewellen is treated as a potential sexual object in the 50 minutes leading up to the violation. Beyond opening the film with a bout of “show me yours”, her channeling of Elvis involves a lot of hip thrusting and twisting – and typically in her underwear. It would be all perfectly innocent except for those cautiously aware of the post-Jon Benet Ramsey world we live in.

Hounddog is not meant to be a cautionary tale though. Director Deborah Kampmeier is telling an autobiographical tale of a girl literally coming-of-age and should be thanking her lucky stars that she has a young actress as freakishly accomplished as Dakota to help her tell it. Having to be on screen in just about every scene, she is so perfectly in tune with the journey of her character that it’s a helpful distraction to the heavy hand guiding her along. As, at least, the second film of 2007 to combine snakes, the blues and unnatural sex with white girls – Hounddog hits the metaphor bell so hard at times that the ringing is likely to contradict the point about a woman finding her own voice. You may still be trying to decipher whether Lewellen sharing a slumber with a bed full of snakes is meant to be a dream or reality. Fanning’s performance is for real though and I felt the film’s ultimate point is conveyed succinctly through the evolution of Elvis’ music. After hammering the titular song to the kind of ad nauseum that you’d actually welcome Eric Clapton’s version of it, when it gets down to Lewellen’s final rendition, it’s a sweet reinvention that Fanning puts her entire heart and soul into that may finally earn her that Oscar nomination next year.

Hounddog is a decent gothic drama with a terrific central performance from Dakota Fanning or its not a decent gothic drama with a terrific central performance. Nothing more. It’s unfortunate that Hounddog isn’t going to have a chance with some people looking to kill their own discomfort through misplaced outrage. I’m not referring to the critics who have some legitimate disparagement towards the storytelling, but those in the media whose view of the world consists of one eye through fingercuffs. As I saw camera crews outside the Park City Racquet Club waiting to gauge audience reaction with questions like “was the rape scene really necessary to the story?” I wish someone would have interviewed me so I can ask them if they were going to be covering the premiere of Trade. Here’s a film (with distribution) about global sex slavery whose primary plot thread through 110 minutes involves a 13 year-old Mexican girl being sold for the explicit purpose of “virgin pussy” but no one was talking. Maybe cause the film isn’t very good, but no one had seen Hounddog yet either, the film which features a 20-second rape scene of a 12 year-old white girl and the cameras were dispatched. For a film heavy on religious symbolism, it would have been nice to see a reshoot about casting the first stone.

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originally posted: 02/02/07 02:29:27
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/05/09 art POINTLESS! 1 stars
6/28/09 George (DUKE) Dakota is is the soundtrack... 3 stars
11/01/07 fernando excelent 5 stars
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  19-Sep-2008 (R)
  DVD: 17-Feb-2009



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