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Review: Alpha Dog (2006)

Alpha Dog (2006)

Directed by: Nick Cassavetes

Premise: A dramatization of the true story of Zack Mazursky (Anton Yelchin), a teenager who was kidnapped by Johnny Truelove, a young drug proprietor (Emile Hirsch), and held as collateral for drug money owed to him by Zack’s older brother (Ben Foster). 

What Works: Alpha Dog is a great little film that is similar to the pictures of Larry Clark (Kids, Bully) but it’s done with a formalist streak and has far less contempt for the characters than Clark’s films. The picture delves into the suburban drug world in California and its characters have a sense of authenticity to them in the way they speak, in the way they move, and how the characters relate to one another physically within the scenes. Something Alpha Dog is able to do extraordinarily is to create characters that are stupid or make stupid decisions, but the film also treats them with dignity and respect. The acting supports this, namely in Hirsch as Johnny Truelove, a drug dealer who is confronted by responsibilities that he cannot handle, Foster as Jake Mazursky, the older brother who is attempting to fly straight,  and Yelchin as Zack Mazursky, a naïve kid dropped into the world of sex, violence, and drugs and adapts to that environment. The big surprise of the film is Justin Timberlake as Frankie, one of Truelove’s groupies. Frankie is given the role of babysitting Zack and the two characters develop an unlikely but close bond. Timberlake’s performance is really tremendous as he carries the emotional weight of the film. He plays the character who realizes exactly what is happening and the legal and moral implications of the events. It’s a tremendous performance that ought to have been a breakthrough role for Timberlake if only the film had gotten wider distribution.

What Doesn’t: The film’s only faults are in the ending, as the picture recreates some interviews with the surviving characters. These interviews just don’t reveal very much to the story and the film could have ended on a stronger note.

DVD extras: Featurette, witness timeline.

Bottom Line: Alpha Dog a solid piece of filmmaking that is both funny and tragic. The performances are strong all around and the film has a strong narrative structure with characters unlike those normally seen in a teen crime picture.

Episode: #146 (June 24, 2007)