Directed by: Albert Hughes
Written by: Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Leonor Varela, Natassia Malthe, Jens Hultén
Runtime: 97 min
An epic adventure set in the last Ice Age, Alpha tells a fascinating, visually stunning story that shines a light on the origins of man's best friend. While on his first hunt with his tribe's most elite group, a young man is injured and must learn to survive alone in the wilderness.
Reluctantly taming a lone wolf abandoned by its pack, the pair learn to rely on each other and become unlikely allies, enduring countless dangers and overwhelming odds to find their way home before winter arrives.
I love dogs, and since the wolf portrayed in the film is an actual breed instead of a CGI animal, I knew this movie would eventually get me in some emotional moments. However, I went into the theater with moderate expectations. The short runtime and the fact that the film is entirely subtitled aren't exactly hints of a fantastic movie, so I was just hoping that I had a good time.
And a good time I had! This is a beautiful-looking film with some of the best cinematography of the year and a touching story heavily relying on an odd relationship between a kid and a wolf. The acting is absolutely a standout, with Kodi incorporating his character (Keda) in a remarkable way. Not as jaw-dropping as Leonardo DiCaprio's performance on The Revenant, but still a very captivating and loving display.
Alpha does not have that much dialogue, so most of the character development comes from the excellent direction of Albert Hughes and from the amazing cast. Jóhannes also provides some passionate moments by portraying Tau, Keda's father. Their interactions are incredibly respectful, and it culturally resembles the idea the world has on ancient tribes.
As for the story, the first half of the movie focuses on the tribe's rituals and on Keda's unbelievable survival skills, which is one of my main issues. It is impossible to deny the immense improbability of Keda's surviving a lot of situations. There are too many impossible-to-survive moments that entirely take away the suspense and sense of danger moving forward since it feels more and more that the protagonist has a strong plot armor.
Another issue with the screenplay is the lack of Alpha, the wolf. For a film that marketed itself as the "true story" (please, don't fall for this) of mankind's first connection with man's best friend, there is such a short screen time for that relationship to grow. For a 97-minute runtime, I expect more than half to be centered around what the movie is supposed to be about otherwise it is not going to be as believable as they wish it to be.
Nevertheless, when the third act arrives, the cute and heartfelt moments compensate a bit for the long wait. Keda and Alpha have so many exceptional scenes, filled with so many emotions and that is something that left me completely captivated until the rest of the film. The ending is not only beautiful but also carries a wonderful surprise that makes everything even better.
Technically, this movie is one of the best I've seen this year. The cinematography is utterly stunning! There are so many eyegasmic landscapes and the editing is so seamless. The transitions between cuts are performed in such a splendid method which gives a truly unique flow to the film. There are only two reasons why I don't expect Alpha to be nominated for Best Cinematography at this year's Oscars: the last trimester will bring us even more outstanding visuals and this movie has a couple of CGI backgrounds where the green screen is clearly standing out.
The score is epic when it needs it to be, but it is also calm when the story requires it. I wish Hughes was able to control better the character's survival scenes since it kind of unbalanced the tone. As I said, the pacing is too slow even for a film with a short runtime, but fortunately, it gradually improves with the story. It is not a documentary, but I enjoy how it looks like one.
Alpha is a good time at the theater, no doubt. If you love dogs like I do, you will love the interactions between Keda and the wolf, as you will love even more the sweet ending. Technically, one of the best movies of the year, with a gorgeous cinematography and some striking landscapes, which seamlessly flow throughout the film with perfect transitions. Unfortunately, the wolf deserved more screen time (marketing was a bit misleading), therefore the story drags as does its pacing. Keda's plot armor is too strong and the sense of realism goes through the drain when he keeps surviving impossible situations. All in all, go see it, accept some over-the-top stuff and enjoy a beautiful-looking movie with a tender story.