Alpha review: A heartfelt, though dramatic Ice Age film

Alpha review

Alpha

****/5

Director: Albert Hughes

Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Leonor Valera, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson and Chuck as Alpha

Near the end of the last great Ice Age, Keda (McPhee), a rookie hunter, joins his father (Haukur) to snatch a herd of steppe bison, but Keda’s inexperience almost costs him his life.

However, things don’t always turn out as one expects as journeys can start unexpectedly and one can learn that being an Alpha is not just about being on the top of the food chain.

Keda, left for dead by his hunting partners after a nasty hit by a bison, forces himself into a do-or-die situation in order to get home. En route, he encounters a wolf pack and injures one.

However, unwilling – or perhaps unable – to bring himself to kill the injured wolf, he decides to take it in and names it Alpha, hoping to survive the impending snow and return to his people.

Albert, of the Hughes brothers, who directed visceral films like From Hell and The Book of Eli, tasks himself with crafting a simple, semi-adult adventure-cum-coming of age film with little more than Keda, Chuck the Czech Wolfdog and the Ice Age as his tools, and he succeeds greatly without needing to wade into the A-rated territory. The film deftly cuts away from any gruesome or painful scenes, letting the viewers imagine what happens in them. It is most apparent when Keda realises he has a dislocated ankle and must put it back together the only way he knows how.

The film truly shines in the actors involved in the struggle. There is a natural sense of honesty in every character involved from the very beginning, where the film makes it obvious that Keda is a rookie amongst veterans by something as simple as the way he breathes and his facial expression: while Keda is clearly anxious, everyone else shows a cool, experienced visage, betraying none of the anxiety in their faces.

Other than Kodi, Haukur and the other actors also show immense dedication as they meld into their characters who know the snow is coming and they must acquire food or die. The concept of ‘strength’ is thrown about in the words they speak, but for Keda and his father, the word has a different, deeper meaning that the film prefers to show rather than tell in the journey Alpha and Keda take together, growing and learning from one another.

There are some issues with the presentation, however, as Alpha cuts and moves from place to place rather abruptly at times. It would seem there were plot threads that were supposed to be explored but were abandoned to maintain the pace it boasts. Other than that, the film manages to present a believable version of the Ice Age where ‘survival of the fittest’ literally meant that.

The film also managed to stave the effect of the numerous delays, presenting a solid piece of work. It may perhaps have been even better as an animated film, but the product we got, in the end, is no less worth the asking price.
 

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Alpha review: A heartfelt, though dramatic Ice Age film

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