Alpha Dog wants to
be a disassociated youth classic like The River's Edge or Kids,
but it doesn't have the brilliant writing and acting of the first film, nor
the fearless hedonism of the latter. However, Alpha Dog does
handle its disturbing true story much better than the
extremely-similarly-plotted recent film The Chumscrubber.
(Honestly, I'm not sure if that film is also based on the same true story
which Alpha Dog is — that of California
— or if the huge plot similarities are merely coincidental.)
What Alpha Dog does
have — in spades — is cool and bad attitude.
The latest film from Nick
Cassavettes — whose father John did more than his share of interesting
peeks at the back-alleys and back rooms of the underworld — peers at the
dark side of recent southern Cal decadence with a story that periodically
fascinates, titillates and frankly... annoys.
Part of the problem with
Alpha Dog is that its main character, Johnny Truelove (they changed the
names because Jesse James Hollywood's has only recently been caught and his
case is still in the courts) is sort of a supporting character in his own
life. He is supposed to be this big time local hood, but apparently
all that Truelove really has is a reasonable amount of money, and an
inflated reputation, a wiseguy family (Bruce Willis and Harry Dean Stanton)
and hoodwinked friends (Justin Timberlake, Christopher Marquette and Shawn
Hatosy) who spend most of the film covering his ass. Emile Hirsch does
a really good job in giving this contradiction of a character an interesting
face and nuance, and yet the character is such an obvious self-impressed
loser that he's hard to find any sympathy for or interest in.
One scene where Truelove
cowers in the back room while his arch-enemy Jake (Ben Foster) robs and
vandalizes his home shows what an empty despot he is. Several other
scenes impart the fact that Truelove is a coward who can only stand up when
surrounded by friends or family to do the dirty work. Whether this is
true to Hollywood's tale or not, I have no idea. I just know that in a
movie it's pretty tough to get all worked up about the fate of a weasel like
The story all springs from
a terrible miscalculation on Truelove's part, when he is owed a lot of money
from that crazed former-friend-turned-enemy, he and his buddies kidnap the
guy's younger brother on a whim, to use as a bargaining chip. At first
it's all a joke for everyone, they take good care of the kid, let him hang
out with them, introduce him to drugs and girls. Of course, it's only
a matter of time before before the real seriousness of their act becomes all
The acting in the film is uniformly
strong, with (shock!) pop star Justin Timberlake standing out as a loyal
soldier and fun party boy who is almost always trying to keep Truelove's
house of cards from tumbling down. Anton Yelchin (Hearts In
Atlantis) is also amazing as the wide-eyed victim, a kid who can overlook
the fact that he is being kidnapped because he is finally entering the
sex-and-drug fueled world of the cool kids. However, Foster and Hatosy,
normally very capable actors, tend to go too far with their over-the-edge
The older actors here are
really pretty much shuffled off to the background, but Bruce Willis does a
nice job as a mob dad getting tired of covering for his fuck-up kid and
Harry Dean Stanton is always fun playing... well Harry Dean Stanton.
Sharon Stone is more hit-or-miss as the mother of the kidnapped boy, she is
actually okay through much of the movie, but the whole role is sabotaged by a late scene,
with Stone in a fat suit, which borders on parody.
I can see why this story
appealed to the filmmakers — it has sex, drugs, music, violence, decadence
and tragedy. However, while much of Alpha Dog is rather
fascinating it never quite pulls it together. (5/07)
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: May 4, 2007.