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Grib Sees Dakota Fanning And David Morse In HOUNDDOG

Merrick here...
Grib sent in this look at HOUNDDOG. There's a lot of controversy swirling around this film -- one sequence features the rape of 12 year old Dakota Fanning. This isn't the first time a film's taken us here, but...even so...it's always an incendiary, disquieting, and haunting path. Here's Grib to talk a bit about how it's handled this time around...
Grib here with a review of "Hounddog," a film elevated by a searing performance by Dakota Fanning: "Hounddog" is a deeply moving film that generated a lot of pre-Festival controversy due to a scene in which the young actress Dakota Fanning is raped. Although that scene would be repulsive due to its subject matter alone, it is handled as tastefully as possible: the camera focuses on Fanning's face, hands, and feet, and the scene does not linger exploitatively. It is as brief as it could be while still getting its impact across. The film centers on Lewellen (Fanning), a young girl of about eleven growing up in a rundown shack in the 1950s South with her beer-gutted, leering father (David Morse), just up the road from her maternal grandmother (Piper Laurie). Coming from a town of 400 in the poor rural South, I generally object to cinematic depictions of this region (with the notable exception of "Junebug"), and I must say that director Deborah Kampmeier lays it on thickly here: the paint is peeling off of Lewellen's shack, and all the screen doors squeak. Abandoned cars lie around all over the backyard; only the slow progress of history keeps satellite dishes from sprouting from every available roof space. All the characters sport a sheen of sweat, and beer is consumed 24/7. But if this must be where the film is set, so be it. It's the acting that matters, particularly the blistering performance of Dakota Fanning, who has one hell of a future ahead of her if she's taken the requisite don't-become-the-next-Lindsay-Lohan courses. I won't reveal the exact circumstances of the controversial scene, as it is central to the film's power. I will say that the handling of the inappropriate way that Lewellen's father behaves around and toward her is well-done. It is not over-the-top, but it exposes issues that are still with us today. The performances are all excellent. I wish that Laurie's character had been developed beyond the shrill, one-note racist Bible-thumper that we're left with, but she does a good job nonetheless. Also left underdeveloped for reasons more plotbound is the mother figure who hovers around the edges of Lewellen's life without ever really stepping in. Robin Wright Penn, asked to deliver yet another rough-hewn, chain-smoking character, gives a wonderful portrait of a woman unlucky enough to fall in with the likes of Lewellen's abusive father. But the real reason to see "Hounddog" is Fanning. She does things in this film that would challenge an actress twice her age. Her emotional range is limitless, and her wonderfully expressive face and saucer-like eyes are incredible assets. Lewellen worships Elvis, and often breaks into song as a means of escaping her painful world. Fanning handles these scenes admirably, fully embodying Lewellen's fleeting reveries. There is a motif involving snakes that is interesting. Lewellen befriends a local stablehand, an African American man who respects the poisonous snakes of the region and bleeds them of their poison to use in antidotes. He tutors Lewellen on the proper regard for these creatures, and he notes that she has a rare and special ability to turn the potential badness in snakes into good. He also introduces her to the blues roots of Elvis' music (which creates a nice cameo opportunity for gospel/pop diva Jill Scott), a lesson that serves her well later in the film. The snakes work on several levels, with obvious Biblical significance in addition to the practical dangers they represent to the characters. I'm sure "Hounddog" is going to have a hell of a time with the MPAA, with or without revised rules. There just aren't a lot of precedents for this movie, and however deftly handled the subject matter is, there are still folks who aren't going to let it in their theaters. I hope it makes it into one near you.

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