Alpha Dog (2006)

Dealing drugs is a dangerous adventure (so movies have told me). You have to trust untrustworthy people, making promises and compromises with people who want nothing more than to take advantage of you, and guns can get involved. There is a lot of room for error, and if something goes wrong, people could die. Or, in the case of Alpha Dog, they can get kidnapped. That’s what happens to one of the characters here, and that is what drives the plot for most of the time.

It doesn’t start this way though. We begin by watching a few teenagers/young adults going about their business. They attend parties, smoke weed and cigarettes, binge drink, and whatever else you can think of that’s generally considered damaging to one’s body. We actually get somewhere around 30 minutes to meet and get to know these characters, which I thought was a good plan, even if the plot seems to have gotten forgotten about at this point.

We finally get to the beginning of our story, as Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) and Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) get into a fight. Jake owes Johnny money, Jake doesn’t have that money, so they have a fist fight that ends with death threats despite the fight itself being broken up. The next day, Jake and his friends trash Johnny’s house, even going so far as to defecate on his carpet. Something has to be done in retribution, of course, and here is where that kidnapping comes in.

The victim is Jake’s half-brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin). Johnny, his friend Frankie (Justin Timberlake) and a couple of other people decide to grab him on the side of the road and hold him hostage for a while. They’re seen by a few people, and the screen tells us that they have names and are witnesses number one, two and three. They never come up again though. I should mention now that Alpha Dog is based on a true story, and that those witnesses were probably supposed to represent real people, but including them means that something should be done with that inclusion, instead of just drawing attention to them and forgetting about them. This happens with somewhere around thirty more people too, and the slight pause when they’re “introduced” gets annoying.

If you plan on watching Alpha Dog, don’t go looking up what actually happened to the people involved. Seriously, just avoid all of that until you’ve watched it, because otherwise you’ll have important story twists spoiled for you, and that’s one of the better things about this film. There is only one big twist, and it comes right at the end. Or, more specifically, where the movie should end.

See, it’s at this moment when I was finished. I had been put through a somewhat unpleasant story, spent a great deal of time with the characters, and after one specific scene which I can’t give away, I was ready for the credits to role. But then we continue on for another fifteen minutes, and I was left wondering for what purpose. We get the text telling us what happened to everyone involved in the kidnapping anyway, so there’s no real purpose to show us a dramatization of it.

I have a feeling that a lot of people won’t want to watch Alpha Dog, because it isn’t a lot of fun. The characters are mostly unlikable, a great deal of them aren’t all that smart, and the story itself isn’t all that enjoyable to endure. There are probably only two main characters that you’ll feel sympathy for: Zack and Frankie.

Zack is only fifteen, so we’re told, although one character remarks that he looks like he’s twelve. He has home issues, as most teenagers seem to, and actually isn’t all that upset about being kidnapped. At one point, Frankie tells him that he can leave if he wants, and Zack replies that he wants to stick it out. After all, he’s away from his overbearing mother, and gets to smoke and drink as much as he wants. Paradise, right? Frankie earns sympathy by trying to let Zack go, while also seeming reluctant about taking him in the first place. Everyone else is unpleasant and pretty much just despicable as a person. “Let’s kill the kid for $2,500!” Gee, isn’t that just delightful?

Even if it isn’t a film that you’re necessarily going to like, I think it’s one that you can appreciate. Or at least, I did. The story was told well, even if it is confusing at the beginning, and the characters have depth despite not being all that fun to be around. It also feels real, and I had no problem believing that the majority of the events depicted in Alpha Dog did in fact happen. I did get annoyed by the way the characters talked, but even then, it still fit and made the film feel even more authentic.

Alpha Dog is a solid drama filled with tension, deep characters and an interesting story. Managing to fill up a film with unlikable characters and still allowing it to keep you enthralled is difficult, but it works here. It does end up playing for too long though, and some of the characters were just too unlikable for me to handle, but on the whole, it’s an entertaining experience that is definitely worth a watch. Just don’t search this case online first, because you’ll have the ending ruined for you. That’s the last thing you want.

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