MOVIE REVIEW: Alpha is an adventure film with a difference
Rating: Three stars (3 out of 5)
Director: Albert Hughes (Book of Eli)
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, Natassia Malthe.
What you live is what you pet
Long before dogs had their day - some 20,000 years ago, to be exact - another species had an impressive tryout for the job as man's best friend.
This is the story of a hardy Arctic wolf named Alpha, and how she buddied-up big-time with Keda (Australian star Kodi Smit-McPhee), the only son of the chief of a nomadic tribe.
On his very first hunting expedition, Keda gets on the wrong side of a rampaging pack of bison and takes a tumble over a ledge.
Presumed dead and bereft of most key survival skills, Keda is facing an impossibly epic journey home until a chance encounter with the kindly and clever Alpha.
What follows is a stark, yet stunningly mounted adventure odyssey, wherein the boy and the wolf must meld minds to elude the dangers of a nature continually conspiring against them.
Despite the movie's unconventional structure - there is very little spoken dialogue, and what do you hear needs to be further decoded with the aid of subtitles - it remains a curiously involving affair from start to finish.
Plaudits must go to McPhee for his excellent anchoring performance, particularly in Alpha's opening act, which amounts to his only real opportunity to graft some much-needed character development on to his role as Keda.
His interactions with other members of the tribe are the most telling, setting up how we perceive Keda will fare when facing the world on his own.
His mother (Natassia Malthe) has reservations about Keda being ready for the tribe's big group hunt, observing her son "leads with his heart, not his spear."
However, Keda's hard-headed father Tau (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), is of the belief that "life is only for the strong." The sooner his son learns this, the better equipped Keda will be to one day lead the tribe in his own right.
Once Keda is forced to go solo, Smit-McPhee's sole co-star for the rest of the movie steps into frame with some remarkably expressive support work. In the role of Alpha, a very well-trained Czech wolfhound named Chuck exudes a noble empathy not often detected in animal performers.
Younger viewers (boys in particular) will effortlessly plug into the Alpha experience on an easy-to-follow, coming-of-Ice-Age level.
Older onlookers won't mind it either as a shorter, sweeter version of The Revenant, minus the murders and revenge killings, of course!