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  Lords of Dogtown Rate The Skate
Year: 2005
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Stars: Heath Ledger, John Robinson, Emile Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, Michael Angarano, Nikki Reed, Rebecca De Mornay, Johnny Knoxville, Elden Henson, Sofia Vergara, America Ferrara, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Vincent Laresca, Melonie Diaz, Pablo Schrieber, Charles Napier
Genre: Action, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is 1976 and in Venice Beach, California, Tony (Victor Rasuk) is a teenager who lives to surf off the coast around the old dilapidated pier, though the guys who indulge in that sport around there consider themselves an exclusive club and not just anybody can gain admittance. Indeed, they will resort to underhand tactics to ensure this surfing spot remains theirs and theirs alone, and Tony and his pals Stacy (John Robinson) and Jay (Emile Hirsch) aspire to be like those young men who brave the often dangerous waters in search of the next big wave. But what if these younger kids had something of their own? Skateboarding has been around since the nineteen-sixties, but as a fad - how about they made it their reason for existing?

Lords of Dogtown was based on real events, of course, as you would know if you had watched Stacy Peralta's documentary Dogtown and the Z-Boys which was released a few years before this, and informed much of the style, not to mention the storyline. Originally David Fincher was involved, even going as far as planning to direct, but for various reasons he dropped out and Catherine Hardwicke was recruited off the back of her indie hit Thirteen, another movie that examined youth culture. She would soon enjoy the biggest hit of her career with the first in the Twilight franchise, but before that her real cult effort was here, a vivid recreation of the seventies with a strong hint of the twenty-first century's benefit of hindsight, The Right Stuff of skateboarding films.

At the time, there were many wondering what the point was of a fictionalisation of the skating scene from thirty years before, especially as Peralta had served up a perfectly good account of those days in his film, but he was onboard to pen the script, and you could observe this as a mainstreaming of a tale that had specialised interest, or you would if it had been a major success. As it was, the newcomers in the cast ensured some teen appeal - and interesting that Peralta's portrayal as written by himself was far from flattering - but nobody was talking of it as a future classic, though after a while as the dust settled it became clear there was a following for the film that few would have guessed at when it had been initially unleashed on the world. Part of that may well have been down to a certain star, the biggest name in the cast.

Heath Ledger, for it was he, was enjoying a big upturn in his career around the middle of this decade; previously he had been seen as a hunky Aussie stuck in decorative roles, but with works like Brokeback Mountain he was truly beginning to show off some serious acting chops, and his part as the founder of the skate shop the participants congregated around, Skip, was perhaps the most underrated of that new flush of success. If you had seen the source documentary you would see he was recapturing the real Skip's mannerisms perfectly, while still creating a genuine personality that you could utterly believe had been exactly as Ledger was portraying him: the stoner surfer dude with a dose of humour about him, yet also a sense that when things turned serious and the skateboarding took off like a rocket, a little tragic too in that he was no longer part of the scene as he should have been.

Not that there was a bad performance in the whole thing, but Ledger lifted the tone of all those around him, and along with the stunts made this a lot more authentic than some of those who were actually there in the mid-seventies might have grumbled about with regards to the specifics they might have got wrong. There was plenty of action, rest assured, as the stunt team combined with some aptitude from the cast generated convincing moves and speed from the lead players, as the skaters find themselves so far ahead of their contemporaries that others struggle to catch up, what with their endless seeking after the perfect location to go about their leisure. The empty swimming pools (thanks to the drought in '76) were famously part of that as the skaters dropped in on as many backyards as they could, without the owners' permission mark you, but as their fame grew they found themselves commercialised as professional ramps and parks were built for competitions and big money sponsorship of teams. We get some cliché business about selling out and who embodied the real spirit of skating, but this was deeply felt, deeper than you might anticipate, leaving a film underrated at the time but taken to the hearts of those who understood its regret at passing camaraderie. Music by Mark Mothersbaugh, along with a million oldies.

[The Eureka Blu-ray is a strong release, the "unrated" edition with great picture and sound, and a million special features carted over from the DVD edition.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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