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Alpha Dog
Review written on: January 14th, 2007

Alpha Dog Review

If you’ve read the papers or watched television recently, you know about the recent events and controversy surrounding this film. While the principal defendant of the real-life case this film is based on has yet to go to trial, Nick Cassavetes tells the story of Jesse James Hollywood with plenty of drama and violence, though obviously heavy on the dramatic license.

The opening shot uses video clips of a little boy and his family, with a mellow version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” playing. While, this may be considered a somewhat sappy start, believe me, the rest of the movie will keep you glued.

The film is told through “interview” format, with onscreen captions identifying the people involved. The story of Johnny Truelove being the center of this whole sordid tale unravels and re-ravels as we learn how the situation went from bad to worse.

Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is a drug-dealer in sunny California. He has a pretty comfortable life with a nice house and car. He has a pretty good relationship with his father (Bruce Willis). His friends and customers regularly hang out and there’s almost always a party. They all act like your typical young adults, looking for good time whenever they can.

Within this clique, there are plenty of hangers on. Whether it’s for the simple association and name value, or what-have-you, they’re just there.
One of the members of the group, Elvis (Shawn Hatosy) isn’t exactly the most respected. Throughout the film he is shown to be the kind of person who would immediately jump at anything Truelove commanded him to do, without question. Frankie Ballenbacher (Justin Timberlake) is another friend of Truelove’s. He’s pretty outspoken and clever and can throw out the verbal hits like a pro.

Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) is a friend and former customer of Truelove, who has been trying to stay on the straight and narrow, not to too much of an avail. Jake owes Johnny some money, and Johnny wants to get paid. End of story. Jake goes to his father’s house to try to get some financial assistance to get out him of this jam. His father and stepmother (Sharon Stone) are a little less than sympathetic. On top of that, his 15 year old brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin), is going through his teenaged rebellion stage: drinking, dabbling in drugs, the whole bit.

Jake and Johnny have plenty of verbal battles, which escalate to Jake vandalizing Johnny’s house to show him that he’s not playing games. Jake’s got the personality of a firecracker: light his fuse and he will explode!!!! So, in Truelove’s warped mind, where can he get Jake where it hurts? Take his brother and hole him up somewhere until Jake coughs up the cash. Truelove and some of his stooges grab him by the side of the road, and they’re off.

Throughout the film, we are shown more and more people who are witnesses to the kidnapping and know of the hostage who either don’t know what’s really the truth behind it or they don’t want to get involved.
Zack, himself, thinks it’s no big deal. Truelove’s buddies treat him like he was one of the gang, and starts to develop some semblance of friendship with him (at first, part of the ruse to keep him calm). The teenaged girls love him, having dubbed him “Stolen Boy”. When given several opportunities to make a break for it, he claims that he doesn’t want to cause any more problems for his brother, so he’ll sit tight.

For Truelove, it’s not going to be that pretty. He calls up his lawyer to find out just what kind of trouble he’s in for the caper. The lawyer gives him a shocker. Kidnapping with extortion warrants an automatic life sentence. Not only can’t he let the boy go, he won’t keep him alive, period.

The others know they are in way over their heads, and there’s no getting out. When they are up in the desert, knowing what they are going to do, Zack begs and pleads for his life. The others are trying to keep him calm, even reassuring him at one point that because of their friendship, they wouldn’t hurt him. The ending events are pretty disturbing, resulting in his death, but the identity of the actual triggerman will be quite a surprise.

Toward the end, the film lists the convictions and sentencing of the other participants. As for Truelove, he went on the run, which culminated in his addition to the FBI’s Most Wanted List, followed by his capture in 2005. I researched the backstory on this case to see exactly how much information was changed, understandably for the sake of the families. Not too much was altered.

All the performances were very good. They stayed fairly consistent and were not overplayed or vamped up for the sake of shock. Be ready to see some pretty crazy stuff. There’s some intense violence and fighting, including a scene at a party which could have been straight out of The Matrix; Sharon Stone’s drastic physical and personality change; and, of course, the aforementioned murder scene. The action and tension in the film simply rises until its inevitable explosion: a senseless moment of violence. You will go through so many emotions and reactions within these 2+ hours, but nothing can keep your heart from breaking once you see what happens to that poor boy.

 

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