Alpha Dog Reviews
Johnny Truelove is a flashy pot dealer who hates when people owe him money. When the volatile Jake Mazursky owes him such a debt, but double crosses him, Johnny and his cohorts resort to kidnapping Jake's little brother as collateral.
Things get interesting when the kid, Zack, who has many chances to escape, decides that he's okay with the situation, and wants to stay. He actually starts to get friendly with Johnny's right hand man Frankie who acts as the kid's handler. But unfortunately, things don't end up so wonderful when the situation becomes hard to contain, and Johnny doesn't know how to deal with it all.
The film courted controversy since it was based on an actual story, and that case was still sorta going on when the film was being made. And apparently writer/director Nick Cassavetes also had insider access to a lot of information to use in his fictionalization of things.
At first, I wasn't sure if I was gonna like this movie. Hardly any of the characters are likable, and most are absolutely awful people with few, if any redeeming qualities. I stuck with it though, since sometimes, situations that go from bad to worse are actually more interesting when you don't feel bad for anybody, and you get to see them get what they deserve. Granted, that also makes for a tough viewing experience, but thankfully, some of them do come around and I started to connect with them a little bit.
The story mostly plays out as a typical film, but is peppered with documentary style interview bits, kind of like an investigative journalism piece. I'm not against this type of storytelling, but maybe it would have been better had they just kept it like a regular movie. Or just went totally all out, and present the non-interview parts as like flashbacks or something.
Even though this is a rough movie about despicable people, I still kinda liked it. It does kinda drag on a bit at the end, but until then is pretty well paced. I think that having the characters be stupid, ineffectual, and panicky adds a nice spin to a familiar type of story, but it also makes things more wrenching since it's based on actual events. I think if I had a personal connection to this story I may not be able to enjoy, or even endure such a thing.
Even though the characters are vile, that's just the way they're supposed to be. The star studded cast do a pretty terrific job here. In smaller supporting roles we get veterans like Harry Dean Stanton, Bruce Willis, and Sharon Stone, and they do okay, but the film is practically carried by the youngsters. Emile Hirsch is fine as Johhny, Ben Foster is positively unhinged as Jake, and Anton Yelchin is pretty solid as Zack. As Frankie, Justin Timberlake is surprisingly strong. He (and some of the others) come off as trying to act black a bit too much, and it's a tad annoying, but other than that, he proves he's got chops, and I can see why he went on to make some more movies after this. We also get a host of lovely ladies including Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried, Amber Heard, and Dominique Swain among others.
All in all, this film is okay. It's a bit of a mess at times, but it's still rather compelling and engaging, despite the messed up scenario and wretched characters. I'm torn on the specific rating, so let's split it between 3 and 3.5. Though I'm giving it a milder recommendation, I think you should still give it a look.
Its based on true events and is about the kidnapping of a young boy he is the brother of a druggie who owes money to this drug dealer and things just escalate to far and things just go from bad to worse.
Great cast great acting, for me its just too slow with not alot happening inbewtween the the beginning and the end so maybe not for everyone but worth the watch.
i must say justin timberlake really stands out here, and he's the one who really gets the move of trendy narcissistic hipster (maybe being hip-pop singer in real life helps), and the only guy you actually feel sympathetic for the punishment. timberlake sorta looks quite stylish with those graffitti tattos and those leisure wears, and he could talk in melodious rhymes. gee, he gets the moves.
perhaps the most impressive part belongs to sharon stone for wearing the fat suit in the end of film, quite a shock indeed. the ex-crotch-flashing goddess of basic instinct plays against her usual sexy roles, and she's here a nagging severe mother who eats herself into monstrous obesity for overtly mourning for her son's death. wow.
as for the brief part of amanda seyfried as the girl who takes the kid's virginity, she does a successful job to shed off the stupid "mean girl" image and begins to demonstrate a naughty kind of sex appeal..maybe that was the reason seyfried took such a petite gratuitous role. (just to prove she could be wild and luring, so no longer the goody girl next door?) and the threesome sex scene in swimming pool feels like a sauce sprayed on the dish to help you consume this style-over-subtance vacant movie.
at least, i wasn't bored by this despite my annoyance with the people in such childish lifestyle. every line is an offensive pun of fellatio or foolish swaggeries which populate among american red-necks. is that these guys have nothing to be proud of except the fact they do own a pair of testicles? not even pairs of "nice-qualitied" testicles with decent sizes. (pun intended.)
Not long ago I had a conversation with a colleague and friend about The Silence of the Lambs. He asked his students to discuss ways in which Jonathan Demme's film upheld and conformed to traditional gender conventions.
I said, "Conformed? The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most feminist movies ever made. I don't see how it conforms to gender stereotypes."
"What about the final scene?" he replied. "It's the man watching the helpless woman. She's subject to The Gaze. It's torn right out of a basic female exploitation film."
"But she shoots him."
"You can make a movie, and ninety minutes could be men exploiting naked women. But even if they shoot the men at the end, it doesn't change the fact that it's an exploitation film."
Even though I still disagree with my friend about The Silence of the Lambs, I describe this conversation because I think it's an applicable concept as I think about Alpha Dog. Here, we get to delight in the drug culture for about ninety minutes. The kidnapped victim thoroughly enjoys being kidnapped, experiencing his first sexual experience with no less than Amanda Seyfried, getting stoned, and playing video games with his captors. Likewise, the kidnappers have expensive cars, wonderful digs, plenty of illegal substances, and a sycophant who is willing to do all the dirty work. I know that this film intends on being a cautionary tale. All the illegal fun adds up to a truly horrible crime, some jail time, and as the opening credit sequence implies, the loss of innocence. But I contend that Alpha Dog amounts to a celebration of these characters, and even though they meet unfortunate ends doesn't make it any less a celebration; it's like a ninety-minute display of naked women, and just because they revolt in the end doesn't make it any less an exploitation film.
I think a more ethical display of drug-addled children behaving badly is Larry Clark's Bully. In Clark's film there is very little to find glorious; everything is ugly.
Overall, Alpha Dog is a highly problematic film, and it makes me re-think my appreciation of other films in this genre.
Alpha Dog is based on events that took place in 2000 and characters are given fictional names. The film is set in November 1999. It tells the story of Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch), a young drug dealer in Claremont, California and his circle of friends, which includes Frankie Ballenbacher (Justin Timberlake), Tiko "TKO" Martinez (Fernando Vargas) and Elvis Schmidt (Shawn Hatosy). The film demonstrates internal gang dynamics and social context that contribute to the events leading to kidnap and murder.
Johnny's father, Sonny Truelove (Bruce Willis), supplies his son with marijuana, from which Johnny makes a fortune dealing and selling. Johnny owns his own house where he holds meetings and parties. Another associate of the gang is Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), who owes Johnny a $1200 drug debt. After a failed attempt at asking for the money from his parents, Olivia (Sharon Stone), and Butch Mazursky, he goes over to Johnny's house where Johnny is having a party. A heated argument is held between the two, which results in a violent fight that Frankie and the gang break up. Jake tells Johnny that he'll never pay him the money. In retaliation, Johnny gets Jake fired from his job by ratting on him to his boss that Jake is on drugs. Later that night, Jake and his gang break into Johnny's house, stealing his flat-screen t.v., breaking his backyard window and defecating on Johnny's carpet. The next day, Johnny, Frankie, and Tiko decide to go to Jake personally and collect the money with the threat of violence. On the way, though, they stumble upon his brother Zack Mazursky (Anton Yelchin) and decide to kidnap him in broad daylight, throwing him into the van. Frankie is worried about the situation, while Johnny is thinking about what to do with him.
Zack makes little effort to escape. Frankie offers him beer and cigarettes, which he accepts. During a street fiesta, Frankie offers him a chance to escape, which Zack declines, not wanting to cause him trouble with Johnny. The two strike up an unlikely friendship. Zack stays at Frankie's house for the night and even helps him with his chores. Zack meets some of Frankie's friends, including Keith Stratton (Chris Marquette), a young pot head, and even strikes up a relationship with Julie (Amanda Seyfried), the youngest member of the group. They all learn of Zack's kidnapping, yet do nothing as Zack seems cool with everything. Julie even refers to him as 'Stolen Boy', and thinks it's hot. Johnny comes over and contemplates with Frankie on what to do. Frankie grows nervous when Johnny asks Frankie about the possibility of having Zack killed, though he quickly dismisses it.
Back at Zack's home, Olivia and Butch do everything they can to find Zack. Olivia grows angry with Jake when she learns he owed money to Johnny. Missing Person posters are put up. Johnny becomes increasingly paranoid about the situation. He calls Jake with the intent of explaining the situation, but learns that Jake already suspects it was him who kidnapped Zack and screams that he'll "rip his throat out and eat his heart". Johnny hangs up and calls his lawyer and explains the situation, which his lawyer replies that Johnny is looking at 25 years to life in prison for his actions. High with anxiety, Johnny seems to have made up his mind.
The next night, while Frankie, Zack, and the gang are at a party at a hotel, Johnny approaches Elvis, who is in deep debt with Johnny, and offers to cancel the debt if he agrees to have Zack murdered. Elvis is skeptical at first, but agrees. Johnny gives him a TEC-9 pistol and leaves with his girlfriend. Back at the party, Zack loses his virginity when he has sex with Julie and her girlfriend, Alma. Elvis arrives at the hotel and explains to Frankie that he is taking Zack home, at which point the party ends and everyone leaves except for Frankie, Zack, Elvis, and Keith. Frankie is relieved to have Zack go home until Elvis reveals Johnny's plan to kill Zack. Frankie is enraged at Elvis, and angrily tells him he won't let him do it. Elvis instead takes Keith and they go to a remote location in the hills to dig a grave. When they get back to the hotel, Elvis tells a disturbed Frankie that they are all looking at life in prison if Zack goes home. Frankie sadly agrees and he, Elvis, and Keith trick Zack into thinking he's going home.
Back at Johnny's house, his dad, Sonny, and their attorney confront him about the kidnapping. Sonny is furious with his son, and when he learns of Johnny's plan to kill Zack, he commands that he call it off, which Johnny refuses, believing that Elvis and Frankie aren't really going to kill Zack. Meanwhile, Frankie, Elvis, Zack and Keith arrive in the hills. They start walking up a hill. Zack is not aware of what's going to happen and is tricked into believing someone's picking him up. Zack grows little suspicious when a deeply saddened Keith silently tells Frankie he can't go through with it, and, after giving Zack a goodbye hug, goes to wait in the van. Realizing what's happening, a panicked Zack asks Frankie what he's doing, Frankie reassures him and the three continue walking up the hill. Zack sees the grave and begins to break down, sobbing and begging Frankie and Elvis to let him go. Frankie contemplates to Elvis that they shouldn't do it, but Elvis is keen on the job he's been given. Frankie calms Zack down and tells him that he would never hurt him, and ties a weeping Zack up with tape. He is astonished when Elvis knocks Zack into the grave with the shovel and ultimately fires at Zack with the pistol killing him. Frankie and Elvis then silently leave.
Zack's body is found 3 days later. The epilogue shows the aftermath of the crime. Zack's mother, Olivia, is interviewed; she talks candidly about her failed suicide attempts and the loss that she has experienced from her son's murder. After being convicted, the gang members serve time: Tiko serving 9 years for the kidnapping; Keith serving at a juvenile facility until the age of 25 for digging Zack's grave and 2nd degree murder; Frankie serving a life sentence for the kidnapping; and Elvis on death row for murdering Zack. Johnny disappears and is finally arrested in Paraguay in 2005 after 5 years of being on the America's Most Wanted list. However, the real Johnny was arrested in Saraquema, Brazil.