I’m convinced that there is a good movie — a fast-paced, tense crime drama rife with social commentary that examines the consequences behind the glamorization of violence and crime — buried somewhere underneath the mess that is Alpha Dog. The only problem is that director Nick Cassavettes didn’t make that movie. Instead, he made this one — a film that meanders around for two hours before deciding the story has been told, and then simply ends. The film has a decent enough concept to build upon, but there’s no emotional center and no payoff for anyone who actually manages to care about any of the characters. Add on top of this a number of poor, pointless — and in one case somewhat tasteless — directorial decisions, and what Alpha Dog adds up to is a crash course in what amounts to plain old bad filmmaking.
The film is another one of the ever popular “based on a true story” films that continue to make their way into the cinema each week. This one follows Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch, Lords of Dogtown), an affluent youth and drug dealer, a character based on Jesse James Hollywood, the youngest person to ever be listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.
In the film, Truelove is simply portrayed as a kid who’s fallen in love with the gangsta persona promoted in pop culture, and who’s never realized that there may one day be consequences to his actions. After a falling out with former friend Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster, X-Men 3: The Last Stand), Truelove decides on a whim to kidnap Jake’s younger brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin, House of D). Things quickly escalate, however, and Truelove and his lackeys soon learn that they could be in serious trouble. This is where the tension in the film is supposed to lie, but too much time is wasted getting there — wandering around and documenting how self-indulgent these kids are. There’s maybe an hour-and-a-half worth of material in the film’s 122 minutes.
The problems are directly the fault of Cassavette’s seeming lack of purpose. It appears that he wanted to document true-life events under the guise of a normal dramatic structure, but this approach lacks the proper impact. I suppose Alpha Dog could be read as a cautionary tale, but in that case, the movie more or less says that dealing drugs, carrying firearms, objectifying women and defecating in a person’s living room is fine and dandy as long as you don’t delve into kidnapping. There’s no real style to the direction, other than the obnoxious split screens that crop up during the interview sequences or the insistence on literally pointing out each and every witness who wanders onscreen (in case you didn’t realize a crime was going on). None of it, however, is as embarrassing as the scene toward the end featuring Sharon Stone in a laughably horrid fat suit (which is almost worth the price of admission) — a misguided blunder that’s almost sort of appealing.
Yet, the film isn’t a complete disaster, since most of the performances are good. Pop star Justin Timberlake does a fine job of creating the only truly sympathetic character in the movie, while Ben Foster steals the film with his blood and thunder performance (unfortunately, the film simply forgets about him halfway through). But these can simply be counted as two wasted performances in a mediocre film.
Rated R for pervasive drug use and language, strong violence, sexuality and nudity.
â reviewed by Justin Souther