Alpha Male Review
I admit that I had this down as an action film. Not, I grant you, a happily mindless action film featuring the likes of Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris, titled something like The Clock Strikes Dead, The Postman Knocks...Dead! or Ready, Steady, Die! but an action film nonetheless. Perhaps an early Jackie Chan film, a straight-to-video Marc Singer effort or one that starred the American Ninja himself, Michael Dudikoff. Alas no, this film is very much a mood piece in which the gentle world of the rich Home Counties set is shattered by the death of a self-made man and by the coming to terms of his children to the remarriage of their mother.
Alpha Male opens in the home of Jim Ferris (Danny Huston), a businessman who's made a fortune in TetraPak-style packaging and who has provided for his wife and children with a mansion in the English countryside, which opens out into rolling green fields. Jack (Arthur Duncan, Mark Wells) and Elyssa (Katie Ann Knight, Amelia Warner ) love their father dearly, even to watching him conduct business in his office within the house and running through the garden on his shoulders, gasping with excitement at the sight of the treehouse and at the swimming pool. But Jim is unwell and dies when Elyssa is only ten years old, leaving his children without a father and his wife Alice (Jennifer Ehle) widowed. All three fail to cope in their own ways - Alice describes herself as now merely floating through life, Jack retreats into playing with electronics and becoming ever more precocious while Elyssa stops speaking to anyone at all. Instead, she spends long days in the fields around her home, watching the foxes, painting pictures and looking at the gardener (Mark Heap) tend the garden. Then Alice, through a support group, meets Clive Lamis (Patrick Baladi) and, though not putting Jim behind her, begins to get on with her life once again, finding some happiness in spite of the conflict between Jack and Clive. Twelve years pass and Jack, now rarely a visitor to his own home, is preparing to leave for China with his girlfriend Maliika (Jemma Powell) and with a first in Economics from an Oxbridge university. As his mother invites him to a party thrown in his honour, he arrives for the weekend but the night of the party is one in which what has gone unsaid in the Ferris/Lamis family will finally be confronted.
As far from an action film as one could ever care to go, Alpha Male is a delicate mood film that charts familial tensions in an otherwise successful English family. But it's a difficult film to like. Even as one accepts its admirably slow pace, the impressive staging of shots and the much-needed warmth that Danny Huston and Jennifer Ehle, who is much too young looking to be the mother of two grown children, bring to the film, we still have a film that believes itself to be much more important than it actually is, something that leaves it a thoroughly unlikable experience. The root of this is in the characters drawn by writer/director Dan Wilde, with the very pompous Jack being the root of many of the film's troubles. He returns home to a birthday party with a girlfriend in tow but where he's an awkward bugger prone to long periods of silence and no shame in admitting his dislike of someone, Maliika is a warm-hearted, party-loving girl who wouldn't, other than in Alpha Male, be seen in the company of Jack never mind in a relationship with him. Elyssa is no better, appearing first as an odd little girl who tends towards long silences before maturing into an attractive but equally quiet woman who says more in the couple of minutes near the end of Alpha Male than she does in the rest of the film. It's also very hard to pass on knowing that Trudie Styler, who plays Brede Norton is Mrs Sting though it's clear that she is by no means actress. Standing around the Ferris' comfortable home does not make for much of a character, with her attempted seduction of Jim being so laughably bad that it's a wonder the entire production didn't wrap there and then, realising how hopeless a task it would be to wring any tension from Alpha Male.
So priggish are these characters that within the first fifteen minutes, one wants them to have some tragedy in their lives just to shake them out of their smug, upper-middle class lives. I feel terrible saying it but I had rather hoped that one of the Ferris family would perish - any one would have done - with this being the kind of comfortable father-mother-one-boy-one-girl unit that one hopes leads a thoroughly miserable life behind the neatly trimmed hedges. However, the mistake the film makes is in asking that we sympathise with these characters. It's impossible to, with the reaction to Maliika finding solace in the arms of someone other than the lifeless Jack being cause for celebration. While the film does end on a positive note, it's only a few minutes in an otherwise very dreary ninety-six, with the impression being that a happy ending has been forced onto the production to redeem the thoroughly awful Jack. While the English language borrows the word Schadenfreude from German, it's the perfect term to describe the sense of satisfaction that one feels at the miseries visited upon the Ferris family. However, unlike the purest use of that word, there is no joy in watching this cheerless and very poor little film.
There are some beautifully-shot moments in Alpha Male, not least those of the young and old Elyssa waiting silently for the coming of a fox into the woods and though director Dan Wilde has an eye for the English countryside, he's let down by a very flat DVD transfer, which is very soft and in contrast to what one might expect, Alpha Male looks washed out of colours. Bright summer days have never looked quite so drab as they do here while the lawns of the Ferris home don't look as well-tended as one might have expected. Instead, they seem to be a bit undernourished, much like the cast, who, for all the time they spend in sun, would seem to be suffering from anaemia. Similarly, the excellent score, which is used sparingly throughout, is done no favours by the DD2.0 audio track, which is mixed rather too quiet, leaving composer Stephen Warbeck's efforts tootling away in the background and competing with a small amount of noise to be heard. The dialogue is sometimes muffled and though the ambient noise of foxes screeching and owls hooting is effective, they're minor plus points in a disappointing audio track. Finally, there are no subtitles on the disc.
The only extra on the disc is a Trailer (1m59s).