Published on September 17th, 2005 | by Paul Greenwood0
Lords of Dogtown
Cast: John Robinson, Emile Hirsch, Rebecca De Mornay, William Mapother, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Victor Rasuk
Inspired by true events, Lords of Dogtown can be viewed as a companion piece to the 2002 documentary, Dogtown and Z-Boys. Indeed, one of the real-life characters portrayed, Stacy Peralta (Robinson), was that film’s director and serves as screenwriter here. Examining the skateboarding scene in California in the mid ’70s, when a bunch of teenagers reinvigorated the sport during a long hot summer spent practising in drained swimming pools, Lords of Dogtown is an evocative and rewarding drama that neatly sidesteps the usual pitfalls of the teen genre.
Following the three superstars of team Zephyr – Stacy, Jay (Hirsch) and Tony (Rasuk) – as they obliterate the competition nationwide with their revolutionary new moves (stunningly filmed in grainy ‘70s style), Peralta is able to offer a first hand account of how life was turned around for these underprivileged kids. But as some gain success and celebrity, rivalries and jealousies erupt as the realisation dawns that living out your dreams might not be as easy as it looks.
Flashily edited boarding sequences are all very well, but director Catherine Hardwicke clearly recognises that for the film to connect beyond the Pepsi Max brigade, it also has to have a heart. That it so surely does is due both to the inherent decency and likeability of the characters, and the committed and engaging performances of the actors playing them. The three young leads are tremendous, as is Rebecca De Mornay as Jay’s unstable mother, while even the generally ordinary Heath Ledger channels the spirit of Val Kilmer into a breezily whacked out turn as the boys’ sometime sponsor.
The appeal of endless summer is offset by the harsh realities of home life (disciplinarian parents, illness, delinquency) and the loss of innocence, as the boys are exposed to the cruel machinations of the business side of their world. But throughout, Peralta and Hardwicke strive to ensure that the focus remains on friendship and not just fame, fortune and bodacious moves. Radical indeed then, but in the literal sense rather than the vernacular.