'Hounddog' hoopla

Dakota Fanning, for her part, dismissed the brouhaha, telling the Associated Press, "It's a movie, and it's called acting." (Fred Norris)

The final cut of "Hounddog," a film written and directed by Deborah Kampmeier and starring Dakota Fanning, premiered in New York on Tuesday evening.

A slightly different version screened at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, and a scene in which 14-year-old Fanning's character is raped has been the focus of intense media scrutiny ever since. As it turns out, the controversy, not surprisingly, has been largely overblown--in the finished product, the scene has been edited down to only a few seconds of screen time, all of which are darkly lit and heartbreaking, but nothing approaching lewd or lascivious.

(Fanning, for her part, dismissed the brouhaha, telling the Associated Press, "It's a movie, and it's called acting.")

The unfortunate thing is that viewers of "Hounddog," who would have to have been living under a rock for the past two years to not know that the scene is coming, are on edge for much of the film waiting to just get it out of the way, which deflects attention away from what is arguably Fanning's most mature and impressive performance yet.

The wide-eyed young prodigy, who is as eerily talented on screen as she is poised off-screen, has previously supported big names in big films, including Sean Penn in "I Am Sam" (2001, becoming the youngest SAG Award nominee ever), Reese Witherspoon in "Sweet Home Alabama" (2002), Denzel Washington in "Man on Fire" (2004), and Tom Cruise in "The War of the Worlds" (2005), and has also done well as the star of kid-targeted films like "The Cat in the Hat" (2003), "Dreamer" (2005) and "Charlotte's Web" (2006), but never before has she had a chance to headline a film exclusively aimed at adults, something that she proves equally adept at handling in "Hounddog."

Frankly, it's hard to think of any 14-year-old other than Fanning who could so convincingly portray a 1960s Southern girl with an indomitable spirit--a latter-day, mini-Scarlett O'Hara, in some respects--fueled by an obsession with Elvis. David Morse, Piper Laurie, Afemo Omilami, and Robin Wright Penn (who also served as an executive producer on the film and helped guide it through a 12-year journey from start to finish) are also excellent in supporting roles.

"Hounddog," which will be released in select cities by Empire Films on Friday, is probably a little too small of a film to garner serious awards attention for it star, but rest assured that Fanning may still be a player in the Oscar race thanks to her other showy performance this year in "The Secret Life of Bees," which was well received in Toronto and will open nationwide in October.