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A provocative Southern tale set in rural Alabama in the late 1950s, Hounddog is the story of a spirited young girl, Lewellen (Dakota Fanning) and her struggle to rise above the repression that surrounds her.
Lewellen lives with her stern grandmother, Grammie (Piper Laurie), but spend most of her time with her much-adored Daddy (David Morse) in his dilapidated shack. Daddy's wild side is tempered by his beautiful but troubled girlfriend, Ellen (Robin Wright Penn) who has a mysterious history but calming influence on the lonely, young girl. Lewellen is deeply talented and finds comfort and safety, as well as a place to put her hurt and rage, in the music of Elvis Presley. When Elvis Presley comes to town for a concert, Lewellen falls into a compromising situations that steals her innocence and leaves her feeling even more alone and hopeless.
It is up to the caretaker, Charles (Afemo Omilanmi) to help Lewellen overcome the wounding of her sprit and save her soul. He teaches her to use The Blues to turn her tragedy into a gift...bringing light out of darkness and hope out of adversity.
HOUNDDOG is writer-director Deborah Kampmeier's controversial story of lost innocence set in rural Alabama in the 1950s. Heavy with the dank, rustic hues of the South, the film is a powerfully vivid and imagistic portrayal of the power of music to overcome the greatest of obstacles. The superbly accomplished child star Dakota Fanning turns in the performance of her career as Lewellen, a tomboy who finds escape from her life with a sternly religious grandmother (Piper Laurie) and a brutish, alcoholic father (David Morse) with her dreams of singing with her idol, Elvis Presley. Lewellen's best friend, Buddy (Cody Hanford), reveals that Elvis will be performing in their town, and the pair scheme to see the show. Before long, Lewellen's guileless impersonations of Elvis's provocative, hip-swiveling "Hounddog" become misconstrued, and she becomes a victim of the lecherous advances of an older teen with promises of a concert ticket. While HOUNDDOG occasionally gets heavy-handed with Biblical allusions--snakes and torrential rains appear repeatedly in the film--the story is, ultimately, a redemptive one; the performances--especially Fanning's--are believable and serve the story well. And thanks to the gentle guidance of a local medicine man (Afemo Omilami), our young protagonist learns that the rock & roll she loves has deep roots in the blues, and like all great blues music, comes out of overcoming the deep sorrow of life's tribulations.
Deborah Kampmeier, Nominee, Grand Jury Prize - Dramatic
Hounddog began its public life at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where it was inauspiciously dubbed "the Dakota Fanning rape film." Poor audience and critical reception led the director to "re-work" the movie, which emerged from limbo for limited distribution nearly two years after its initial film festival showing. It seems destined for a quick one-week run in a few theaters before rushing to video stores, where it will gather dust. A failure on pretty much every level, Hounddog would never have been known beyond Park City had it not been for the notoriety surrounding the rape scene...Hounddog is relentlessly downbeat, but not in a way that provides empathy for the character or her situation. That's supposed to be the goal, but Lewellen isn't written with enough deftness for this to occur as the movie clobbers her with one bad experience after another. Here's a partial catalog: her daddy beats her (apparently), he shoots her dog, her deeply religious grandmother displays no evidence of love or affection, her daddy's encounter with a lightning bolt leaves him a simpleton, she is betrayed and raped, and she is cheated out of seeing Elvis. The cumulative effect of these bad things isn't to make one understand the tragedy of Lewellen's life better, but to wish the movie concludes as swiftly as possible...There's no doubting that Dakota Fanning is a gifted young actress, but this is a poor match for her abilities. She is at times good but there are occasions in which she's obviously giving a performance...Hounddog is an unappealing mess. It provides minimal insight into its characters and their circumstances and compounds this problem with erratic pacing that threatens to bore the viewer to sleep during the first half before piling on the contrivances during the second. Take away the "hound" part of the title and you have an appropriate descriptor of this production.
Dakota Fanning takes an impressive step forward in her career, but that's about the only good thing about "Hounddog." The reigning child star, now 14, handles a painful and complex role with such assurance that she reminds me of Jodie Foster in "Taxi Driver." But her character is surrounded by a swamp of worn-out backwoods Southern cliches that can't be rescued even by the other accomplished actors in the cast...She plays Lewellen, a barefoot tomboy who lives in a shack with her father (David Morse), a slovenly drunk and self-pitying whiner. Next door is her granny (Piper Laurie), who keeps house well but is a hard-drinking slattern. Lewellen prowls the woods and frequents the swimming hole with her best friend, Buddy (Cody Hanford), as they trade awkward kisses and examine each other's private parts with great curiosity...The poverty of her family is indicated by the usual marker: rusting trucks in the lawn. Her father operates a tractor, which during a rainstorm is struck by lightning. This hurls him to the ground and makes him even more dramatically loony. He is seized by anxiety that his daughter will abandon him, and one night he walks into the local tavern seeking her, having failed to notice that he is stark naked..."Hounddog" is assembled from the debris of countless worn-out images of the Deep South and is indeed beautifully photographed. But the writer-director, Deborah Kampmeier, has become inflamed by the imagery and trusts it as the material for a story, which seems grotesque and lurid. David Morse's "Daddy," well-played as the character may be, is a particularly dreary presence, pitiful instead of sympathetic. Having seen so many of these fine actors in other roles, my heart goes out for them. Still, the discovery here is the remarkable Dakota Fanning, opening the next stage in her career and doing it bravely, with presence, confidence and high spirits.
David Edelstein, New York Magazine
Fanning is a child actor with a grown-up soul, and every move, every breath, seems mysteriously right.
The Hollywood Reporter
Dakota Fanning gives an absolutely riveting performance. A triumph.
The New York Times
Powerful and memorable...a career defining role for Dakota Fanning.
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