Arts & Leisure

“Alpha” movie is a doggone good tail

ALPHA (Chuck) and Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in “Alpha,” the story of how wolves may have become dogs.

By Jim Tortolano

If you’ve ever loved a dog, or ever wanted a dog, here’s a movie that will tug on your heartstrings like a weightlifter doing a dead lift. If you’re especially tender-hearted about man’s best friend, “Alpha” may have you getting misty between sips of your Coke Zero Sugar.

The film, directed by Albert Hughes and co-written by Hughes and Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt, is about the very first wolf-turned-dog, the original “Alpha” dog, who also goes by that name.

It takes place about 10,000 years ago in Europe in which a tribe of prehistoric people struggle to survive in a harsh environment. One of them is Keda (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a teenage boy who is himself a little too tender-hearted for the era in which he lives.

Nevertheless, he goes along with the tribe on a bison hunt, and in the ensuing stampede, gets knocked off a cliff. He lands, stunned and unconscious, on a stony shelf. Believing him dead, or at least unreachable, the tribe leaves him there.

However, Keda does wake up and manages to get down the cliff. As he tries to find his way home, he is attacked by a pack of wolves, one of which he stabs while fending the animals off. He manages to scamper up a tree and the other wolves give up and go home in a parallel of what the humans did to Keda.

The human teen decides to try to help the wounded wolf, and slowly but surely, a bond develops. In addition to the caveman boy-and-his dog story, there are some amusing bits in which we learn how the games of “fetch” and “tug of war” may have had their origins.

Many adventures follow, some of them too violent for kids to see (hence the PG-13 rating). Suffice it to say that Keda and Alpha (played by Chuck) save each other’s lives repeatedly, and our first mutt does not get the “Old Yeller” treatment.

Additionally, there is a delightful surprise ending. The cinematography is superb and the story plausible for the most part.

There’s one big hole in the plot, however. [Spoiler alert!] The people of this tribe have developed a very sophisticated clothing craft, so much so that they look almost like they shopped at North Face before setting out on the hunt.

So how is it that none of them brought a rope? Or could figure out how to create one out of all the stuff they had? It’s especially jarring considering how distraught Keda’s father (played by Leonor Varela) was about losing his son. Maybe grief was clouding his MacGyver skills.

In any case, this is a quality film about the start of a bond between people and dogs, a connection that’s lasted longer than the written word or agriculture. So, see this movie, and pet your dog.

“Alpha” is rated PG-13 for danger and violence.

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