Skateboarding is one of those sports that looks much easier than it actually is. As someone who once tried (and failed) to learn the art of balancing one’s self on a piece of wood with wheels, I am here to say that things are significantly tougher than they seem.
The Zephyr Boys (or Z-boys, as they are called for short) are given credit for taking skateboarding from nothing more than a 1970’s fad to a true sport, paving the way for greats like Tony Hawk. Lords Of Dogtown examines the impact the Z-boys had on skateboarding, but not in the brainless fashion that the trailers would lead you to believe. This is a funny, exhilarating, and oddly touching film about fame, fortune, and the art that is skateboarding.
The story picks up with Stacy (Robinson), Jay (Hirsch), Tony (Rasuk), Sid (Michael Angarano), and their skating brethren in mid-1970’s Venice, California. The boys live to skate and soon find themselves recruited by Skip (Heath Ledger), the local Zephyr surfboard shop owner, to be members of the Zephyr skateboard team. The boys are good, alright. They tear up the local competitions and are eventually tracked down by skating moguls with bags of cash and attractive endorsement deals.
That’s the Cliffs Notes version, however, and I’m going to leave it at that. Lords of Dogtown thrives on small moments. Virtually every scene of the boys’ misadventures culminates in a laugh or at the very least sentimental appeal. Screenwriter Stacy Peralta has crafted a beautiful screenplay of the very events he experienced firsthand, and as a result the entire film exudes authenticity. The language is not glossed over and spruced up to appeal to today’s parents. Short hand is used liberally and contributes greatly to the documentary-style feel of the entire production.
The cast is uniformally superb. Heath Ledger is good for a laugh in every scene as Skip, the always drunk owner of Zephyr. He is virtually unrecognizable, hidden under hair and a goatee, as he immerses himself in the role. Emile Hirsch shines as Jay Adams, whom today is often referred to as the “seed” who brought skateboarding to a sporting spotlight. His character is given the most depth (a wrinkly and sunburned Rebecca De Mornay plays his strung-out mother, whom he is constantly trying to support by skateboarding) and Hirsch continues to impress. John Robinson portrays Stacy Peralta with a shyness that one wouldn’t think existed in one of the most praised skateboarders ever. At this time Peralta was the most “square” of the bunch, as he held down a job and even tucked his shirt in. Victor Rasuk also makes a strong impression as the attention-loving Tony Alva, one of the most successful skateboarders in history. The supporting cast only lifts the material further with strong performances across the board.
Director Catherine Hardwicke takes the hand-held camera route for this film, as does so magnificently. As stated before, the film has a heavy documentary feel to it and Hardwicke clearly put great thought and care into the filming of the movie’s many skateboarding scenes. The effect is borderline dizzying, but quite effective. The muted color palette of sands and dirty browns gives an almost black and white vibe and adds to the convincing feel of the project.
If there is one complaint I have, it is that the final act of the film feels rushed. The fact that so much time is given to the development of the team and the overall progression of each skateboarder can be attributed to this, but several major events happen to each character in the final act and some of it feels underdeveloped.
I fear that Lords of Dogtown will be lost in shuffle, especially with its poorly designed trailer. The film is a true rarity in the realm of sports movies in that it doesn’t talk down to the audience and tells it how it was. Furthermore, this movie is not just for skateboarders. With outstanding performances, a big heart, and a superb soundtrack (a classic rock lover’s dream), Lords of Dogtown just may be the sleeper film of the summer.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 107 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for drug and alcohol content, sexuality, violence, language and reckless behavior – all involving teens.
Theatrical Release: June 3, 2005
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Written by: Stacy Peralta
Cast: John Robinson, Emile Hirsch, Rebecca De Mornay, William Mapother, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Victor Rasuk