If any of you watch America’s Most Wanted or have followed the news over the past few years, chances are you know about Jesse James Hollywood, the notorious twenty-year-old drug dealer. Alpha Dog is based upon Hollywood, his crew, and their unlawful activities. Of course the names are changed due to the fact that there are trials pending, but the story is a chilling tale of how young men can push each other too far trying to adhere to a “tough guy” image.
Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch, The Gir… Next Door) isn’t your typical twenty-year-old; the owner of a nice home, numerous exotic vehicles, and the head of an expanding drug empire. He runs a tight crew with a few close friends shadowing his every movement – Frankie Ballenbacher (Justin Timberlake, Black Snake Moan), Elvis Schmidt (Shawn Hatosy, The Faculty), and Tiko Martinez (professional middleweight boxer Fernando Vargas). When the group isn’t peddling drugs they spend their time partying, which is exactly what they are doing when Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster, Hostage) comes over to settle a debt with Johnny. After a disagreement, Johnny attacks Jake, but ends up submersed in his own pool after being thrown threw the patio window. Jake returns home to his girlfriend and is shortly thereafter visited by his brother Zach (Anton Yelchin, House of D). After a few beers and joints Jake drives his fifteen year old brother home to distressed parents.
The following morning Zach wakes up, and hoping to delay the inevitable argument with his parents, leaves through his window and kills time walking around the neighborhood. Little does he know that his life is about to change forever. Johnny Truelove and his crew are out looking for Jake but instead see Zach walking alone. They chase Zach down and kick him around a little before throwing him into their van and driving off. The group keeps Zach pretty docile, constantly feeding him beer, pot, and introducing him to girls. He is even given several opportunities to escape captivity but refuses to so he doesn’t cause his brother any more problems. The good times start to spiral with doubt over Zach’s future and everyone is starting to get a little paranoid over the situation.
Alpha Dog is a solid and mostly factual look into the story of the notorious Jesse James Hollywood (Johnny Truelove in the movie). Surprisingly well cast, it proves to be a powerful representation of what people are capable of when pushed into a corner. Nearly the entire cast made worthy performances especially the short-lived role of Sonnny Truelove by Bruce Willis. At first inclination one might think that Justin Timberlake would be better suited as a singer, but as an actor he wasn’t all that bad, although his role wasn’t very challenging he came through quite well. The characters were all pretty straight forward; young males so caught up in their tough guy wannabe gangster image it spelled their own demise. Characters like this aren’t awfully challenging to play but the entire cast did quite well doing so.
Alpha Dog was one of the better new movies I’ve seen this year; although it was far from being perfect, it was surprisingly well put together and well directed by Nick Cassavetes. The story of all these young men is really compelling and powerful, at times you sympathize with the characters and at other times you hate them. Like I mentioned this movie isn’t a masterpiece like Goodfellas, but manages to be a good teenage alternative.
Alpha Dog is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen format. At times it looks rather impressive, but most noticeably in the blue-screen shots the facial features lack detail and the night scenes include some compression artifacts. For the most part, the details were quite nice from the sandy dunes of California to its vibrant streets. Maybe the most impressive details were in the characters tattoos, which were always very sharp and clear. In the end, Alpha Dog satisfied my video needs and left little to be desired except for the odd scene.
Universal has included a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track on this release, and present the film’s material well – especially the numerous party scenes (the shouting crowds and music). The rear channels and bass are continually in use as the film contains a soundtrack that is predominantly hip-hop music. The dialogue remains consistently clear throughout the duration with no noticeable faults, which is a good thing considering this movie is dialogue drive. Overall a fairly impressive audio section makes for an enjoyable listen.
- A Cautionary Tale: The Making of Alpha Dog – A ten-minute feature on the making of Alpha Dog, includes interviews with the cast as well as director Nick Cassavetes.
- Witness Timeline – Quotes from real witnesses throughout the duration of the kidnapping.
The film is better than I originally thought it would be, and the cast meshed together well and put out solid performances. The story is captivating, and although it drags on a little bit longer than it could have, Alpha Dog proves to be a rather good movie. Unfortunately, if you’re into special features, you won’t be blown away with what you’re given, but the audio and video should make up for it. Overall, Alpha Dog is at minimum worth the rental, and if you’re a fan of the movie you don’t get much extra so make you’re decision based on how much you enjoyed the movie.
Special Features List
- A Cautionary Tale: The Making of Alpha Dog
- Witness Timeline