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Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Keda in Alpha.

Alan Markfield/Columbia Pictures

  • Alpha
  • Written by: Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt
  • Directed by: Albert Hughes
  • Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Johannes Haukur Johannesson
  • Classification: PG
  • 97 minutes

rating

The history lesson has some cinematic pizzazz. The coming-of-(ice)-age survival story Alpha is a big-screen bison-killing epic set on the plains of Europe, 20,000 years ago. It’s about the origin of the dog, hence the name of the film. Kodi Smit-McPhee stars as a tribal leader’s son who isn’t the hunt-and-kill type. “He leads with his heart, not his spear,” his mother frets, speaking in the film’s primitive subtitled language. Indeed, the long-haired teen looks like he leads with a Yeats poem. For about five minutes, Alpha is literally a cliffhanger, with the novice hunter left for dead on a ledge. What follows is a rigidly standard buddy film, albeit one which involves a wolf and a young man sharing a meal of maggots and bonding over the tag-team killing of wild animals. There’s something delightfully clever in a narrative that is easily transferable to modern times. Speaking of which, seeing Alpha on as big and splashy a screen as possible is advisable, preferably with children who can handle occasional scenes of intense peril. It’s never too soon to teach them that it’s always been a dog-eat-dog world, even before there were dogs.