Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Deborah Kampmeier | 2007 | 102 min | US

Hounddog takes place in the South during a blazing hot summer. It's the late fifties, Elvis Presley is king, and no one wears shoes. Dakota Fanning stars as Lewellen, a precocious girl who finds comfort and joy in Presley's music despite a deeply troubled home life. When she encounters even greater trauma it is Presley's music that helps her to recover.

If you have heard about this movie at all you've heard about its rape scene, and that is one of the film's major problems. Hounddog has been known for over a year as "the Dakota Fanning rape movie." This makes it impossible to watch without every moment being coloured by that knowledge. Any tension or surprise is erased while you look at every male character as a possible rapist and every scene as a possible rape scene. When the eventual rapist does appear on screen he telegraphs his intentions by doing everything short of licking his lips while wearing a "Registered Sex Offender" t-shirt.

As for the much discussed rape scene, though it does not come off as overly graphic, it certainly does come off as unnecessary. Director Deborah Kampmeier had to have known she would court serious controversy with the scene, and I expect that is the only reason why it was included. Without the controversy I can't imagine anyone finding a reason to speak about this film.

Not to put too fine a point on it, every aspect of the movie is obvious and stupid. Absolutely laughable dialogue, terrible plot "twists," and a generous helping of magical black men helping her to re-love Elvis. I will acknowledge that my numbers may be slightly off, but I counted eight separate scenes in which Fanning sings "Hounddog," plus an additional two or three other Elvis numbers. We get it: she loooooooves Elvis. It sure would be tragic is she encountered some Elvis-related despair, hey? Hounddog aims for the Southern Gothic feel that David Gordon Green perfected in Undertow, but it lands firmly in the stunted territory of high school plays instead.

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