I’ve closely followed the story behind the movie “Alpha Dog”, the true story, and the great thing is that “Alpha Dog” is probably the closest reenactment to the event one will ever get. The movie was originally filmed almost three years by director Nick Cassavetes and is based on the story of criminal Jesse James Hollywood, a drug dealer in Southern California. Hollywood kidnapped the young brother of an addict who owed him money back in 1999. After holding the kid hostage for three days Hollywood paid some friends to kill the boy and bury his body in the mountains. Hollywood ended up evading the law up until 2005 when he was eventually captured. This movie has been shuffled around the release schedule due to how closely the events mirror the real case, Hollywood’s capture, and that the director received privileged information. In the end this movie gives an audience a wide range of emotions and shows a very gripping story.
The movie “Alpha Dog” deals with the story of drug dealer Johnny Truelove played by Emile Hirsch. Truelove and his friends live in a world of no rules, no parents, and constant access to drugs and parties. Truelove lives the high life with his girlfriend Angela (Olivia Wilde), his best friend Frankie (Justin Timberlake), and his servant boy Elvis (Shawn Hatosy). When Truelove starts a feud with client Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) who can’t pay Truelove for drugs, the boys decide to kidnap Mazursky’s younger brother Zach (Anton Yelchin). After partying with the young boy for three days Truelove comes to the realization that Zach is a liability to him and his lifestyle. What these young boys end up doing sparks the greatest crime in recent history, and destroys many innocent lives.
I originally expected critics to pan this film, but was surprised to see it getting a wide range of praise, and let me say “Alpha Dog” is a movie that tries to make you laugh and cry. If you’ve heard anything about Jesse James Hollywood then you already know how the movie is going to end. While I expected a rather depressing ending, leading up to that there was a lot of humor in the film. The film tries to paint a very serious picture of the events by listing what characters were witnesses and having the parents of the parties involved make little testimonials. When the ending finally came it wasn’t jarring in the transition from humor to drama. I never once looked at my watch, the movie moves at an incredibly quick pace even with a running time of two hours.
While the movie is gripping there are a couple minor problems. The back stories of some of the characters are either rushed or omitted. The supposed main focus of the film, Truelove, is a character that is only seen in a couple key scenes. He has no major hand in the murder of the young boy, and he only speaks in a couple key scenes. One would think that since he was the one on the FBI Most Wanted List that the movie would focus on him and his life a bit more. Ben Foster’s character of Jake is prominent within the first hour of the film and then disappears, never to be seen again for some reason. The back stories of the parents of the two groups are also very slapped together. Also, the young ladies in the film played by Dominique Swain, Olivia Wilde, and Amanda Seyfried really seem to be there to provide nudity and have almost no back-story to speak of. Not to mention these young ladies don’t even stick around for the rest of the film.
While there were minor problems with “Alpha Dog’s” story this is, in essence, a character driven drama. All the actors involved bring perfect performances to the table. There are the regular stand-by’s of Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone; these veteran actors always provide a great performance. The young cast is where “Alpha Dog” truly shines though. Emile Hirsch, who not the main character that he is listed as, brings the character of Johnny Truelove to life; in one breath he can play a hard-core gangster, in other he is a scared little boy afraid of being beaten by clients. Anton Yelchin also delivers as Zach Mazursky, the hostage, a boy who is smothered by his mom and sees Truelove and his friends as the fresh air that he needs. The surprise stand-out of the film comes from Justin Timberlake of all people. Having seen Timberlake in concert right before seeing the movie he has every indication of being able to make a smooth transition from singing to acting. He is spot on as the right hand man Frankie Ballenbacher. He wants to be Johnny’s “boy” but also has spent the last three days with his kidnapping victim, befriending him. This causes a conflict for Frankie that one can see in Timberlake’s face, which makes his ultimate decision all the more shocking.
After waiting three years for “Alpha Dog” I must say it was worth the wait. This movie has everything to take the crime drama and turn it on its ear. The performances from the cast are believable and heart wrenching and the fast-paced story makes you leave the theater thinking, “how could this have happened.” While “Alpha Dog” doesn’t look to be getting any attention from theater goers, hopefully word of mouth can propel this movie and give it the recognition it deserves.