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Dakota Fanning, Cody Hanford, Piper Laurie, David Morse, Afemo Omilami ... see more see more... , Robin Wright , Isabelle Fuhrman , Ron Prather , Jill Scott

A precocious but troubled young girl living in 1950s-era Alabama seeks solace in the music of Elvis Presley in director Deborah Kampmeier's controversial tale of childhood trauma and musical healing. ... read more read more...An air of repression lingers over the home of spirited youngster Lewellen (Dakota Fanning), who finds both comfort in the music of pop sensation Presley, as well as a place to store her pain and anger. In time Lewellen begins to find her own voice, a voice that will instill her with the strength to move beyond the pain of her past and into a more hopeful future. Piper Laurie, David Morse, and Robin Wright Penn star in a period drama that made its debut at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

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48% liked it

15,279 ratings


15% liked it

54 critics

R, 1 hr. 42 min.

Directed by: Deborah Kampmeier

Release Date: September 19, 2008

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DVD Release Date: March 10, 2009

Stats: 572 reviews

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Flixster Reviews (572)

  • April 5, 2012
    Dakota Fanning's luminescent performance grounds this lonely, sordid trip to the rural 1950s South enough to overcome the numerous and cliched stereotypes in this dark tale of a poor country girl innocently obsessed with Elvis.
  • October 8, 2011
    A young girl grows up in the South with her damaged father, dysfunctional grandmother, and a looming sexuality.
    I think this film gets a star knocked off as a penalty for its disappointment. I like Dakota Fanning in her dramatic roles more than her saccharine family comedies, an... read mored David Morse is always extraordinary. But there are so many flaws in this film that I almost can't get my head around all of them. First - the snakes. The opening credits, the connective tissue, and a supporting character are all obsessed with these menacing, phallic creatures slithering this way and that, and the image gets to be a tired, worn cliche by the end of the film if it wasn't already a cliche before the first frame.
    Second, David Morse's character begins the film as a force, a menace, an ever-present threat, and if you've seen or heard any press for this film, then you know why it's "controversial," and you're probably expecting Morse to be the source of the controversy, which would a scene of such brutality, such a mismatched mesh of horror - Fanning with her slight demeanor and Morse the towering giant. But midway through the first act, Daddy is struck by lightning. Yes, you read that right: he's struck by lightning. And the source of the film's dooming, gothic ambiance is turned into a simple, bowl-cutted idiot.
    Finally, Robin Wright Penn's character begins the film as a passing stranger, but I can almost hear the writers, midway through the third act, thinking, "Hmm: maybe we should take her character seriously."
    Yes, Fanning is wonderful, adapting to the damaged Lewellen like the fantastic actress she already is (I can't imagine what a force she might become), and Morse does his best with what he's been given, but overall, this is truly bad storytelling and even worse filmmaking.
  • June 14, 2010
    Have been wanting to see this for ages, but doesn't seem to be getting released over here (anytime soon, anyhow), so ended up ordering the DVD from the US. I was surprised to see it was deleted already and had to buy it from a private seller. It is almost like this film is too ... read moreshocking for some people and is being made to disappear.
    Well, obviously it is not a nice topic, a coming of age story about a young girl, played by Dakota Fanning, who's lives with her alcoholic father, who may or may not be abusive, and her extremely religious Grandmother who is just oblivious to a lot of things. Music is her outlet and when she hears Elvis is coming to town, her and a friend come up with a questionable plan to score tickets, which leads to a tragedy.
    Dakota, as always is fantastic. I have a whole new respect for her as an actress after watching this, although I have always liked her. She plays plucky Lewellen with such strength and truth that this almost ends up being an inspiring story. (Almost).
  • October 17, 2009
    Very slow, but it was worth a watch. Very odd storyline but brought to life as best as could be. The last 25 minutes or so is the best part of the film.
  • April 19, 2009
    Dakota Fanning gives her best performance to date. She perfectly captures both her youthful innocence, and her natural maturity that puts her above most child actors. Though the film may be "controversial" and "hard hitting" it is also painfully simplistic and clichéd. Fanning p... read morelays a very obvious Southern girl in a far too familiar cinematic Southern world. She's the poor little white girl with a hard drinking father that is sometimes violent and a strict religious grandmother. Fanning has her escape, in the form of Elvis' music, but she is really enlightened by the black community. The weather and snakes are all used as your everyday Southern metaphors and are lacking in visual impact. We've seen all these characters before, especially Morse's at first cruel but caring father and then simple minded and childlike. This plot strand could have been used to show the role reversal between child and parent, but instead Fanning is off doing her own thing. It's beautifully shot though, capturing all the harsh weather conditions and bright yet gothic scenery.
  • September 20, 2008
    [size=3]With better direction, "Hounddog" could have been a major film. It had many core elements that were so right, including a stellar cast led by [b]Dakota Fanning[/b], who was about 12 years old when the film was made. Supporting actors include [b]Piper Laurie[/b], [b]David ... read moreMorse[/b], and [b]Robin Wright Penn[/b].[/size]


    [size=3]A girl in a remote corner of the deep South (the environs resemble a jungle) struggles in the 1950s to survive in a dirt-poor, highly dysfunctional family. Her whole life is a trial. But when she is raped, she suffers her worst ordeal and drifts into what is almost a coma. [/size]

    [size=3]The title comes from the Elvis Presley song, which was beloved by teenagers at the time and derided by many adults as "devil music." (This debate figures into the story.) The girl sings the song frequently in part to keep her soul alive. Music indeed becomes her salvation, both Elvis Presley's pop and the authentic Blues upon which it was based. But the title can also be seen as a reference to the girl herself, who is so filthy and mangy as to resemble a hounddog.[/size]


    [size=3]When the film first surfaced in late 2006 and was accepted at the Sundance Film Festival, a brouhaha erupted over its subject matter. Some suggested it was a form of child pornography, which strikes me as completely ridiculous. The rape scene is brief and discreet and could not be perceived by anyone with a normally functioning brain as titillating or lurid.[/size]

    [size=3]Rape of children is a fact. Should we stick our heads in the sand to ignore it, or confront it openly as the tragedy it is? I'm not a head-in-the-sand type, whether the issue is global warming, failed foreign policies, or child abuse. I want a national cinema that confronts reality head on. [/size]

    [size=3]I applaud Ms. Fanning for choosing to participate in a film that dares to look at girls' issues fearlessly, and I applaud her parents for supporting her. I also resoundingly commend the screenwriter and director, [b]Deborah Kampmeier[/b], for having the guts to make a film that looks unflinchingly at a reality millions of girls (and many boys) face.[/size]

    [size=3]There is of course the fear that parents might mistakenly believe "Hounddog" is a children's film because Ms. Fanning is the star. But that is a risk that has to be taken. We certainly cannot shut down cinema because we're afraid a child might see the wrong film. It is the responsibility of the distributor to make it completely obvious in the marketing material that this is an adults-only film, and it's up to parents to take it from there.[/size]

    [size=3]When the film finally was screened at Sundance, it was met with an avalanche of derision from critics, which also strikes me as ridiculous. It's clearly not a masterpiece, and some aspects of the direction are terrible. But the entire film a piece of junk? I don't understand that view. I can't help but wonder if critics turned away from the film because of its subject matter. They can't call for censorship, but they can destroy a film by overstating its flaws. No one, it seems, wants to see a film that examines rape of children. I still maintain that this was why critics savaged "Fierce People" last year. (That film was on my Top 10 List of 2007.) But the version of "Hounddog" that was screened at Sundance was rough, and Kampmeier has done some cutting since then. Perhaps the version in theaters now is much improved.[/size]

    [size=3]After the tidal wave of negative press at Sundance, "Hounddog" disappeared, never finding a distributor. That angered me to no end. Then suddenly, more than a year later, I see it advertised in the New York Times. I don't know who finally stepped up to the plate to arrange screenings, but we owe that person many thanks.[/size]

    [size=3]Now for a discussion of the film's flaws. Kampmeier is very heavy on style and tends to overdo things. Her locations are striking -- at times too striking. There is moss dripping from every tree and florid jungle-like growth everywhere. The interiors are also thick with symbolism. When the girl visits a bluesman who lives nearby, his place has snakeskins hanging from the walls. [/size]

    [size=3]When Kampmeier directs the actors, she often overdoes something as well. One scene toward the end of the film involves the girl's father wandering around the town in a stupor. To emphasize his disorientation, Kampmeier has the actor do the scene completely naked, which struck me as completely unnecessary and over the top. Another example: when the girl first hears a Blues performance, the musicians are so overly animated that they seem to be doing a parody of the Blues. [/size]

    [size=3]Kampmeier also has an approach to sound that is irritating. There is too much music and too many sound effects. Presumably to add a mystical tone, she occasionally uses sound effects such as a few strikes of a percussion instrument. Every time I heard these effects, I almost burst out laughing. For reasons such as this, I had to bring down the film's ranking to 6. It otherwise would have been at least a 7, maybe even an 8. (Incidentally, I haven't given out a 9 or 10 rating yet this year. I save those for near-masterpieces and full-on masterpieces. I actually haven't given a 10 rating since 2006, for Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain." The last 9 I gave out was for Todd Haynes's "I'm Not There" in 2007.)[/size]

    [size=3]One critic described "Hounddog" as over-ripe, and that is apt. I think Kampmeier might do well to study a film like "The Hours" by Stephen Daldry to learn how to use avant-garde techniques to enrich a film without drowning it. The famous scene in "The Hours" where Julianne Moore's character is contemplating suicide in a hotel room is an example. Daldry has a river explode from under the woman's bed, consuming the character. [/size]

    [size=3]Obviously this was symbolism. Rivers don't appear in hotels. Daldry was taking a big risk using a non-realistic technique like this, and it worked beautifully. He knew how to use such a device and keep it under control. He had Moore lie on the bed placidly, for example, to keep the scene from going overboard. Kampmeier probably would have had Moore flailing about screaming. The art of understatement is something Kampmeier urgently needs to learn. If she does, I think she could turn into one of America's finest directors, on a par with masters such as Karen Moncrieff ("The Dead Girl") and Laurie Collyer ("Sherrybaby").[/size]

    [size=3]Kampmeier's excesses are not constant, however. Every now and again they become a problem. There are many scenes that are done superbly, and "Hounddog" is worth seeing for any fan of serious film.[/size]
  • September 22, 2008
    [font=Century Gothic]People can read too much into some things.[/font]
    [font=Century Gothic][/font]
    [font=Century Gothic]Take "Hounddog" for instance. Would I be wrong to say that this is a picturesque allegory which brings to mind the Garden of Eden? It is 1960 in Alabama whe... read morere Lewellen(Dakota Fanning) is in a blissful state of childhood where she worships Elvis Presley while spending most days playing with her best friend Buddy(Cody Hanford). She also hangs out at the house of her father(David Morse) who has just gotten a new girlfriend(Robin Wright Penn). So, it comes as no surprise that she is excited when she hears that Elvis is coming to town...[/font]

    [font=Century Gothic]But there are snakes, both literal and figurative. Her friend Charles(Afemo Omilami) looks out for the literal kind, milking the poisonous ones for antivenin. And there are the figurative ones like Lewellen's strict grandmother(Piper Laurie) who rails against rock and roll music as the devil's work.(Hopefully, we have come far enough in the past fifty years for dancing to be considered an outlet for expression, and nothing sexual.) What is truly evil is the cycle of abuse happening in front of everybody and is just accepted as a natural fact. This includes racism of course and this is where the blues come in as a reaction against that. [/font]
  • August 29, 2012
    "You ain't nothin' but a hounddog, [u]been snoopin' round my door![/u]" If she was still alive, I'd imagine Big Mama Thorton would be cryin' all the time, because hardly anyone remembers that she was the first person to actually do "Hound Dog", and you better believe that they br... read moreought that up in this film, seeing as how it's set in Thorton's and my beloved Alabama, though specifically at an era of Alabama that I'm not especially proud of. Ironic how we finally get a major reminder of the original "Hound Dog", and yet, no one ended up seeing the film, though I can't say I'm too surprised, because I'm a bit thrown off by a certain other something that this film brings up with brutal honest. Poor Dakota Fanning, at only 12, was really trying to establish herself as one hardcore serious actress, and yet, hardly anyone saw this film, and almost all of the people who did, in fact, see it said that it was terrible, while just about "every" single person who saw it couldn't shut up about "that" scene (It's a mega-spoiler, so either watch the film or look it up, you dirty cheaters), even though it wasn't even a minute long and only showed Fanning's horrified face. Granted, it's still really, really messed up that they got a 12-year-old to do a scene like that, and plus, the scene itself is still about as harsh as it can be as a face-shot, so either way, I think that we can all agree that this film stands as yet another awesome testament to how the indie industry is filled with the audacious, or at least creeps, because it does seem as though the only types of experimental methods they do in the indie film industry are of either this film's notorious scene's certain nature or a boringly lyrical and borderline storyless nature. As much as these filmmaking "experiments" go explored, you'd think that they would ironically be too overused to actually be experimental, and yet it seems like every year there are more than a few crazy kids who come up with a new, more messed up way of milking these experiments for all their worth, with this film being ultimately "an" exception, because even with its, well, pretty, or at least relatively considerably tamed certain scene, this is not much more than the same-old-same-old. Eh, whatever, this is still a pretty decent film, yet make no mistake, regardless of how everyone makes it seem, "that" notorious scene wasn't the critics' only complaint, and lord knows that it's not my only complaint either.

    Not a whole lot in the way of narrative focus can be found, for although this film isn't, well, that other type of experimental indie filmmaking that I mentioned earlier, where it drifts along quietly and lyrically, it goes bloated by filler, as well as plot points that string too organically together, to the point dissipating build, and by extension, intrigue after a while. It doesn't help that the film is not only steady in structure, but in atmosphere, being surprisingly not being all that dull, yet still not too terribly far away from that point, as it limps along dryly with little bite and limited livliness in the atmosphere, rarely, if ever to where you're left all that bored, yet decidedly to where it's easy to fall out of the film, as it tends to drag its feet a bit too much, both in story structure and atmospheric execution. Again, the film doesn't limp along quite as much as I expected it to, though pull back on the sighs of relief, as this film still stands to pick up the pace a bit, which is no more than what you can say about a lot of southern-gothic indie dramas of this type, and therein lays yet another complaint, as this film is nothing if not faithful to its type, in that it plummets into many story tropes and conventions within this genre that have been done to death, which of course makes the film predictable, as well as supplementary to the limiting of the film's intrigue and subtlety, both of which are pretty limited to begin with. Now, the consensus describes the film as "overwrought" and "downright exploitative", and really, I wouldn't say that this film is nearly that unsubtle, or even all that ceaselessly unsubtle to begin, as its tackling of plot points that could go the way of either subtle or unsubtle is an event that is surprisingly in short supply. However, while the film is never anything along the lines of "exploitative" in its unsubtlety, when we do hit those either hit or miss moments of potentially subtle dramatic depth - whether it be the struggles of David Morse's Lou character or "that" notorious scene -, the film slips up, not quite taking all that major of a plunge into the essence of the drama, but instead laying down more cliches and even a bit of sentimentality, leaving the dramatic note to miss more than hit, and never hit as hard as the should when they do connect. To my surprise, the story to this film doesn't seem terribly worthy, partially because we've seen it all done before, and done better, so it's not like there's a whole lot to be disappointed with, yet the film does stand to hit harder, preferably while heading in a different direction. However, at the end of the day, the film is, at least to me, far from the disaster critics claim it to be, for although the film is much too considerably flawed to reward, I found it to be a generally enjoyable watch, partially because "that" notorious scene comes in late and is actually relatively tamed quite a bit, and largely because the film isn't without its fair share of strengths.

    This film is so conventional that even its should-be unique cinematography looks familiar, yet at least I remember this type of cinematography as good-looking, so sure enough, Jim Denault provides depth in the film's coloring, giving it an attractive livliness, married with a degree of dramatic bleakness, to supplement the tone of the story, and there is plenty of depth, or at least potential depth in the story to supplement. Again, this story is a highly conventional one, and one that's not even all that terribly worthy to begin with, though it remains a compelling tale whose concept on paper is better than this film's execution, yet remains nevertheless compelling enough to where there is a degree of immediate intrigue. The structure and execution of the story isn't strong enough to fully flesh out this intrigue, yet that moderate engagement value remains consistently workmanlike, holding a certain charm about that's actually ameloriated by much of the filler, which may slow down the bite of the substance, but still gives us enough of a chance to bond with these characters and their stories, maybe not as much as we should, yet still enough for the film to not lose you too often. Director, writer and co-producer Deborah Kampmeier's ambition is palpable, though perhaps too much so, to the point of creating overambition that hazes her good intentions, which were already hurt from the get-go by the film's being so highly conventional and sometimes unsubtle, yet the fact of the matter is that Kampmeier has her heart in this film, and firmly enough for it to maybe not hit nearly as much as it should, yet still have a charm and reasonable degree of spirit to it, elevated by the charming performances within the reasonably strong cast, from which at least two standouts emerge as particularly strong, or at least when they have something to do. David Morse feels rather underused, and when does arrive, the writing and direction of the film restrains the effectiveness of Morse's performance by either giving Morse surprisingly little to do or giving Morse some of the film's most sentimental material, which makes light of his Lou characters' situations as a struggling loving father, alcoholic and, eventually, victim an unfortunate and life-altering accident. However, where Morse could have succumb to the not-so-competent filmmaking and come off as too artificial as a hardly all that necessary supporting character, he ultimately triumphs and transcends his retraints, conveying the love and pain of the Lou character, particularly once the accident occurs and presents Morse something of an acting challenge, which he manages to pull off more believably than the script establishes it to be. Morse helps in giving this film some life and steals the show when given the opportunity, much like the also underused yet notably immensely charming Afemo Omilami as the generic wise and mystical black man (Like I said, this film gets really cliche), yet at the end of the day, this is Dakota Fanning's show, and she holds her own as well as you would expect her to, being given only so much material to work with, yet boasting a consistent presence of both strength and innocence that makes our primary Lewellen character a charming one, while the more emotional moments in Fanning's performances carry this film's dramatic weight, maybe too far, considering the lack of punch in the script and direction, but far enough for the film to engage and for Fanning to offer further evidence of her talent, particularly during the final act that succeeds "that" notorious scene and presents Fanning with more material, which she uses to make the final act of the film reasonably moving, even if it does get to be a bit manipulative, which isn't to say that Fanning isn't consistently strong enough to carry a film this flawed and help in making it reasonably enjoyable to those willing to stick with it through all of the faults in the execution of its ambition.

    Overall, the film pulls the old southern-gothic indie drama trick of limping along with a draggy and not too comfortably structured storyline, made worse by the slowness that may not be terribly severe, yet remains as present here as it is in many other films of this type, which isn't to say that the conventions end there, as the film collapses into trope after trop and establishes predictability, further pronounced by the lack of subtlety that helps in making this film an underwhelming one, yet hardly the disaster many claim it to be, as it is well-shot enough to catch your eye, with a story that may be conventional and not especially well-told, yet remains strong enough in concept to reasonably charm when it needs to most and have some degree of flesh-out, made all the more effective by the charming performances, the strongest of which being by a show-stealing David More and show-owning Dakota Fanning, who carries "Hounddog" and helps in making it a watchable coming-of-age tale, even if it has been done time and time again, and typically better.

    2.5/5 - Fair
  • December 16, 2009
    Dakota Fanning's performance is the only reason to watch this film. The film reminded me a little of Stand By Me and My Girl, but those were much better films. I thought some of the supporting cast members, were miscast in this film.
  • September 16, 2009
    I heard about this movie through a chain e-mail written by a person who was trying to ban this film delcaring it "awful" with a "terrible rape scene of a child." I think this was the first film I've ever seen of a rape with a young child in it. I think the rape scene isn't as dis... read moretasteful as everyone said it was going to be though it was still provacative and horrifying.

    I feel like this movie doesn't really have a point except to say that this world has a lot of crap in it and you just have to shake it off and move on. Your dad is a drunk and beats you, your mom isn't in the picture, you're dirt poor and live in an area where snakes are rampant and one bite will kill you, and to top it all off, your boyfriend likes another girl and he watches you get raped.

    This movie had such potential to be GREAT. But it just failed. It's too bad too because Dakota Fanning is such a talented actress and her costars were also talented.

    Even though this movie was a tad bit heavy-handed, there are incredible visuals of the rural south in the 1950s. I love the costumes and sets and the music and the sounds of cicadas and crickets put me right there in the era.

    Hounddog is basically, to put it bluntly, a coming-of-age tale that doesn't have much of anything meaningful to say.

Critic Reviews

Steven Winn
October 31, 2008
Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle

The whole distasteful mess is sunk up to its neck in a brew of Southern Gothic atmosphere and hocus-pocus sentimentality. Full Review

Michael Phillips
October 18, 2008
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

Only Fanning's emotional honesty makes Hounddog watchable. Full Review

Peter Travers
September 26, 2008
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

If there's a Southern-gothic cliché (oh, those snakes!) that writer-director Deborah Kampmeier misses, I don't know it.

David Hiltbrand
September 25, 2008
David Hiltbrand, Philadelphia Inquirer

A slow procession of degradation and suffering, Hounddog is like a tall glass of bitter iced tea. Full Review

Stephen Whitty
September 19, 2008
Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger

The latest wallow in regional cliche and stereotype. Full Review

Lou Lumenick
September 19, 2008
Lou Lumenick, New York Post

The clichés are thick as the kudzu in 1956 Alabama. Full Review

Elizabeth Weitzman
September 19, 2008
Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News

Rarely has there been a movie as misguided as Hounddog, which self-righteously indulges in exploitation while loudly decrying it. Full Review

Mark Olsen
September 19, 2008
Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times

The problems that plague the movie land squarely with the writer, director and producer, Deborah Kampmeier, who has crafted a howler of a bad script, shows little affinity for working with actors and ... Full Review

Joshua Katzman
September 19, 2008
Joshua Katzman, Chicago Reader

A bewildering slice of southern gothic hokum, it suffers from a weak script, proving that old saw about actors being only as good as the lines they're given. Full Review

Roger Ebert
September 19, 2008
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Dakota Fanning takes an impressive step forward in her career, but that's about the only good thing about Hounddog. Full Review

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    • Buddy: Guess what I've heard?
    • Lewellen: What?
    • Buddy: Guess!
    • Lewellen: No, tell me.
    • Buddy: I've heard that Elvis is comin' to town.
    • Lewellen: Elvis is comin' to town.
    • Lewellen: It's for your face.
    • Granny: I've heard that you're talkin' to someone. Who are you talkin' to?
    • Lewellen: Nobody.
    • Granny: It better not have been one of those boys wantin' to do evil things with you.
    • Lewellen: No, ma'am.
    • Granny: Plenty of time for you to grow up and do all kinds of evil, but I just want you to be good while you still can. Gotta long time before you need to be growin' up.
    • Lewellen: Who are you? Where my daddy?
    • Strange Lady: He's in the can. He'll be out in a minute.
    • Lewellen: Who's the stranger lady?
    • Daddy: We, uh, we were waitin' for you to watch Elvis.

Hounddog : Watch Free on TV

Hounddog Trivia

  • this actress played in the following shows: charlotte's web Hounddog Dreamer Sweethome Alabama Malcom In The Middle  Answer »
  • In which movie does the controversial rape scene with Dakota Fanning take place?  Answer »
  • Which actress plays in all these movies? Uptown Girl Hide and Seek Hounddog  Answer »
  • What 2007 independent film was the center of a massive controversy after information that child actress Dakota Fanning would appear in a rape scene was leaked?  Answer »

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