Alpha Dog

Nick Cassavettes’ Alpha Dog is the latest film to be added to the long growing list of movies that are “inspired by true events”. What that really means is that the filmmakers found a true story and turned it into a movie, utilizing their poetic licenses to the maximum. While it does use the true story of a teenage thug and drug dealer as its framework, Alpha Dog cannot help but getting a little distracted with that is going on around it. But nonetheless, I couldn’t help but to be completely focused on it and I couldn’t stop thinking about it afterwards, despite some glaring flaws.

The story that is at the center of Alpha Dog is that of teenage drug dealer and thug Jesse James Hollywood. In Alpha Dog, Emile Hirsch plays the character based on Jesse James, Johnny Truelove. He is owed a rather large sum of money by Jake Marzursky (Ben Foster). The two rivals can never be in the same room together, and Johnny will stop at nothing but to make sure he receives what is owed to him.

Truelove and his crew find a way of ensuring that Johnny will receive his money. While cruising around the town mid-afternoon (since these teens have nothing else to do), they find Jake’s younger brother, Zach (Anton Yelchin), walking along the side of the road. In a moment of pure ambition and little thought, Zach becomes a hostage. The plan is that he will hang out with the guys for a few days, and be released when Johnny receives his money.

Zach ends up becoming one of the guys. He smokes, parties and plays video games with them during his stay. He especially becomes close with Frankie (Justin Timberlake). Frankie goes from co-conspirator to a companion to Zach. However, if you know the story that Alpha Dog is based on, the part comes to an abrupt end for Zach.

Alpha Dog features some adequate performances from the young ensemble cast. While Timberlake starts off as a caricature of a thug, he ends up showing the most depth and range through Frankie. Emile Hirsch isn’t a stand out as the ringleader Truelove, but does a well enough job to keep us focused on his character’s actions.

Where Alpha Dog became extremely annoying to me, is having to watch one party scene after another. In the beginning, the film felt like a low-grade music video that could have been easily seen somewhere on MTV . We are thrown into the lives of these young people and we see them spending their days smoking, drinking and playing video games, and it takes way from the story that I was interested in when going into the theater. However, about a half hour in, Alpha Dog really begins to form into a gritty morality tale. It becomes far more engaging and finally captured my attention.

The final scenes of Alpha Dog feel extremely tacked on, causing the film to go nearly twenty minutes longer than necessary. Exclude from this statement the affective scene with Zach’s mother (Sharon Stone) being interviewed about the hostage situation.

Alpha Dog left me scratching my head, in terms of the recommendation I was going to give it. The beginning is pointless party scenes, but the middle acts are very engaging and interesting. Then we get the tacked on ending, where I was ready to leave. It isn’t a bad film, but a flawed one. Even so, it kept me focused and I gave the film thought long after it was done. That alone is worth a solid recommendation.


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