Anyone who has seen Stacey Peralta's 2001 documentary Dogtown And Z-Boys will know what to expect from this fictionalised version of the same story, a fast 'n' loose history of the skateboarding craze that arose in California in the 70s. Peralta, one of the main players in that saga, confines himself to writing this time and spins an elegant rags to riches yarn that's enlivened by guileless acting from the young leads, John Robinson, Emile Hirsch and Victor Rasuk.
Director Catherine Hardwicke, who tried so hard to shock us in her previous coming-of-age flick Thirteen, here concentrates on the storytelling and some exciting wheel's eye-view skate footage. The film effectively captures the exhilaration of a long hot summer, when water shortages provided the Z Boys with an endless supply of drained swimming pools and dried-up concrete channels to perfect their gnarly moves.
"LIKE A LARRY CLARKE MOVIE WITHOUT THE EXPLOITATION FACTOR"
Holding this ramshackle group together is ageing surf bum Skip, and his disillusionment is the thread that runs through the whole movie. It's also a chance to see something we've never seen before: a genuinely brilliant performance from Heath Ledger. A sun-frazzled cross between Val Kilmer and a bullfrog, he creates a compelling portrait of weary desperation. Like a Larry Clarke movie without the exploitation factor, Dogtown gets right to the heart of what it feels like to be young, energetic, horny and disenfranchised. As success beckons the young skaters it tips gently towards tragedy - a small tragedy in the larger world perhaps, but none the less moving for that. Recommended.