Health Ledger is one of the real tragic deaths in Hollywood history. The final years of his he showed himself to be one of the most talent and unique actors of his generation with Brokeback Mountain, I’m Not There, The Dark Knight and his collaborations with Terry Gilliam including Health’s final film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Ledger may have a supporting role in Lords of Dogtown but after you watch the film all you really remember is his performance as Skip Engblom who sponsors the Zephyr skate team.
The film is based on true events that occurred mainly in the Dogtown area of Venice Beach in the mid to late ’70s. It’s about a group of young surfers turned skaters who lay the groundwork for the now lucrative and popular world of pro-skating. The film focuses on the early lives and careers of Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, and Jay Adams. It’s a coming of age film which has it all drugs, sex, death, infighting and of course skating.
David Fincher at one point was doing to direct the film and what a different film that would be, he did stay on as an executive producer. Limb Bizkit frontman turned film director Fred Durst even planned it as his directorial debut as one point. The film finally landed in the lap of Catherine Hardwicke who had a big success with his indie teen drama Thirteen. Hardwicke understood the world of skating; she already knew Peralta who also directed a documentary on the same events.
The performances are all solid especially a very young Emile Hirsch as Jay Adams and this was his breakout role. However the film is elevated by Ledger who perfectly captures the flamboyant character of Skip but his maturity shines though because he also depicts the sadness of the character which is the mark of a really great actor. Johnny Knoxville plays a rival company owner who snatches one of the skaters away from Skip. Jeremy Renner and Shea Whigham also appear in a small roles.
The film isn’t without flaws for example the period setting for the most part is faithfully replicated. However at times it falls into that trap with period pieces where it looks like the present just with people dressed up in period garb. The soundtrack for the most part is right on but the use of punk and new wave music is too early in the narrative and factually didn’t come out till a couple of years later. It also contains a dreadful cover of The Clash’s Death & Glory by Social Distortion in the end credits.
Lords of Dogtown remains the high watermark of skateboarding films which I’m sure is a pretty small genre. The performances are great especially Ledger and the soundtrack is a chock-a-block full of great songs even if they don’t always fit the years depicted. The disc includes commentary from Hardwicke & cast, an intro, 7 featurettes about the making of the film, deleted scenes, a blooper reel and more.