Ever since I heard that Catherine Hardwicke was directing The Nativity Story, I've been keen to catch up on her previous work. And my desire to see Lords of Dogtown was only heightened by seeing her debut film Thirteen, which I reviewed back in July.
My appetite was wetted further when I discovered Heath Ledger was also involved. Not all of Ledger's choices of role have been sound, but when his films have appealed to me enough to watch them, then he has usually turned in a good performance.
Lords of Dogtown followed hot on the heels of acclaimed skate documentary Dogtown and Z Boys which examined the lives of the young skate pioneers the Z-Boys who were from Dogtown in Venice, California. Hardwicke's film covers similar material but in narrative form.
Like Thirteen, and, it appears, The Nativity Story, Lords of Dogtown covers the lives of teenagers growing up suddenly as they deal with issues usually faced by adults. The film starts in 1975 with a group of 4 friends who use skateboarding to escape from largely difficult home situations. They are drawn to the owner of the local surf shop who, seeing a marketing opportunity behind their talents, takes them to a number of skating competitions. The four's new, and unconventional style reinvents skating for a new audience, and it is not long before a skateboarding manufacturers are queuing up offer to them instant fame and fortune.
In addition to the thematic parallels noted above Lords of Dogtown gives a few other pointers as to what The Nativity Story might be like. Firstly, this is another good quality film by Hardwicke. The performances are excellent, the direction is strong, and the pacing and the script make for an engaging film. Hardwicke started out as a production designer, and the sets and locations here certainly ring true.
The subject matter here is a little safer than that of Thirteen. The teenagers in question are older, and male so the characters appear less vulnerable, and the scenarios they find themselves in less shocking. This trajectory will, presumably, extend into The Nativity Story. Whilst the threats to the protagonist are no less real, at least this time she is accompanied by a responsible adult.