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Alpha Dog (2006)

DVD Cover (Universal)
Director:
Nick Cassavetes Nick Cassavetes
Starring:
Bruce Willis Bruce Willis
Matthew Barry Matthew Barry
Emile Hirsch Emile Hirsch
Fernando Vargas Fernando Vargas
Vincent Kartheiser Vincent Kartheiser
User Lists:
> Nirrads Best of 2007

6.5 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Genres: Crime, Crime Drama, Docudrama
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: January 17, 2007
When a film's release date is pushed back, that usually spells disaster. Typically, that means the film has to undergo re-shoots or re-edits, and that is usually a terrible thing for a motion picture. Just ask the negative buzz that attacked "All the King's Men" this past year when it was finally released. "Alpha Dog", however, is a different story. Legally, the film could not be released. Why? Because the actual person on which the central character in the film is based was finally apprehended in 2005, and his lawyers prevented the film from being released, arguing that it was bias the opinion of his client, a drug-dealing murderer. I understand the legal precedent and don't argue with their decision to hault the release of the film for a little while. Only last week did a judge finally rule that the film could finally be released, only days before it actually was released. The bad news is that put "Alpha Dog" smack in the middle of Dump Month, the worst time for a film to be released, unless you're a film that is strategically placed there to score an easy #1 slot. If "Alpha Dog" were more accessible to the mainstream, I would not have been surprised to find it out-grossing the rest of the films on the chart this week. Alas, "Alpha Dog" is too dark, and centers on a culture and a demographic that most Americans don't want to know about. It deals with an event that most people would find staggering and intolerable. It deals with this event in a blunt, matter-of-fact way, and therefore, made "Alpha Dog" an amazing cinematic experience...and a disturbing one.

Based on actual events, Emile Hirsch stars as Johnny Truelove, a local drug dealer who seems to own everyone and everything that surrounds him. His father, Sonny (Bruce Willis), is an ever better-known drug dealer who possibly has connections to the mob. Everyone who surrounds Johnny is there for a reason. Elvis (Shawn Hatosy) owes Johnny money and does everything from mow his lawn to clean up excrement off his living room floor. Frankie (Justin Timberlake) comes from a wealthy home and seems pretty confident, but whenever Johnny is around, he turns into just another lackey. Even Johnny's girlfriend, Angela (Olivia Wilde), only wants Johnny for drugs and sex, nothing more. When Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) owes Johnny a little money, he goes berserk on Jake with a belt. Turns out that's a bad move, considering Jake is both a black belt in martial arts and a complete psycho, who threatens to do terrible things to Johnny. This begins a pseudo-war between Johnny and Jake, with Johnny firmly believing all along that Jake could kill him, but nevertheless continuing the feud at every turn. In one life changing moment, Johnny and Frankie decide to kidnap Jake's younger brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin). They take the kid, but it seems more like a vacation than a kidnapping. Zack goes with them to parties, has access to all the drugs he use to have to pay for, and even gets revenge on his mother (Sharon Stone), with whom he had an argument hours before. As Jake looks for his younger brother, and Zack gets more and more involved with the group, Johnny starts to realize the seriousness of the situation, leading to the conclusion that I already knew was going to happen, but still couldn't believe it when it did.

First off, if you haven't heard anything about the story - SPOILER WARNING. You might not have heard about any of this and I don't want to ruin it for you, so read at your own risk. It's rare when a film has this kind of visceral affect on me, as a film watcher. I was not expecting such a reaction when I went in to see "Alpha Dog", and certainly not such an overwhelming one. "Alpha Dog" doesn't feel like it's going where it's going, even though you already know it is. You keep waiting for some toned down Hollywood version of the events, but you don't get them. What you get might not be exactly what happened or what was said, but it paints a pretty clear picture of these boys, and just how brainwashed and bewildered they really were. These were boys who spent their entire lives trying to be what they were not; boys who were raised by parents that either didn't care about them at all, or cared way too much; boys who might have been taught how to survive, but were never really taught the differences between right and wrong. And, there are contrasts to these characters also. Emile Hirsch's character is the ringleader - the biggest poser of them all. He tries his best to act as big and bad as he possibly can, but then we see his weakness and his cowardice when Jake breaks into his house and starts wrecking the please. We see that's he just another poser who only has the power he has because he hangs around people to weak to know any better. Justin Timberlake's character is the only one of the group with the tiniest glimmers of good. He seems to develop a friendship with Zack and turns into somewhat of his protector - his interim brother. Timberlake's character offers to let him escape twice, but Zack doesn't accept because he trusts Timberlake's character totally. This makes the ending all the more disturbing, as Zack is pleading and begging Frankie, with Frankie quietly assuring him that everything is going to be all right and that he would never hurt him. The character of Elvis is the other extreme - he will do anything it takes to be accepted in this group, even if that means committing murder for his acceptance.

Director Nick Cassavetes has assembled a fine ensemble cast here and that is one of the things that makes the film work - the chemistry between the actors. Emile Hirsch is spot-on, as always, portraying the thuggish Johnny, carefully conveying both his dominance and his cowardice. Justin Timberlake starts out a little 'half and half', but by the end of the film, had completely won me over with his performance, though you probably despise his character more than any other. He manages to find a real depth to the performance. Anton Yelchin is perfectly cast as Zack, and he is just too adorable and too 'kid brother' for you not to be devastated by the ending. That's really what it felt like to me - like someone had done that to my younger brother or something. He really does a fine job of making you love him. Shawn Hatosy pulls in a nice performance, and pseudo-comeback, as Elvis, and you don't hate his character to much as you totally pity him. In the adult roles, Bruce Willis is very nice as Sonny Truelove, but it is Sharon Stone who turns in likely-to-be one of the best performances of 2007 as Olivia, the grieving mother. Stone has a scene at the end of this film that is pure genius, even as she is trapped within the confines of a poorly constructed fat suit. Her emotions are as real as they come, even though they still have that Sharon Stone flair that we've all come to expect. Also, look for "Growing Pains" Alan Thicke in a quick and unexpected cameo. And, I save the best for last - Ben Foster. Wow. Not much else to say except that he stole each and every scene in which he was in. His character is goofy, ferocious, and totally raw. The revenge freak in me wanted to see his character unload on all the others for what they did, but that's not how things work out in real life. Foster continues to impress. This is his best performance yet.

With all of that said, "Alpha Dog" is a disturbing film. The ending pissed me off to a staggering degree. I didn't think I could walk out of a theatre so upset. Credit that to director Nick Cassavetes' directorial style, and the fine ensemble performances therein. "Alpha Dog" deals with serious events and serious characters, and it does so in a very serious way. This film isn't Hollywoodized very much at all, and I guess that's what made my reaction so visceral. I was expecting something to happen to make the ending different from how I knew it was going to be. But, this is what really happened - well, a semi-fictionalized account of what happened, but I didn't seen anything in this film that, based on these characters, couldn't and wouldn't have happened. I expect this film to be thoroughly forgotten come awards season this year, but I hope Sharon Stone's performance is still remembered for what it was - and that is nothing short of amazing. I continue to wonder what kind of careers Emile Hirsch and Anton Yelchin will have, and this makes me feel far better about the both of them. "Alpha Dog" is the best film of 2007, and I'll be hard pressed to find 10 films that affected me more than this one this year...or ever. Check this film out. But, be prepared.

10/10.
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grain of sand #1: grain of sand - added 09/17/2007, 07:25 AM
I did not like this movie at all, but I kind of liked it.. if that makes sense.. bruce willis and sharon stone are great in their roles.. I think the whole stoner thing was a little overacted so that bummed me out, but I liked the idea of the whole thing.. I know nothing about the true events, but I thought it was a decent enough story with some shabby acting and a few great performances sprinkled throughout along with some decent boob scenes
7/10
Tristan #2: Tristan - added 12/12/2008, 12:25 PM
Outstanding performances all around. Never thought I'd say this, but Justin Timberlake was actually quite good. However, Ben Foster was the driving force of this movie. As he usually is. He's definitely one of our finest young actors working right now. Bummer of an ending, but that's what happens when you make a great film based on true events.

10/10
Nirrad #3: Nirrad - added 12/13/2008, 03:30 PM
Agreed, when I first heard about this movie I thought it would suck, I was wrong. 10/10
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