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Alpha Dog
More Bark Than Bite
Alpha Dog
Emile Hirsch and Justin Timberlake Star in "Alpha Dog".
OPENING WEEKEND: $14,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $44,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

August 21st, 2006: Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is an ambitious young drug dealer and the ringleader of a group of teenage criminals who idolize and imitate the dangerous lifestyle of gangsters. When a deal with one of his clients, Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), goes wrong, Johnny demands his money. The disagreement between the two escalates into a physical confrontation and the two part ways on very bad terms. In an attempt to get back at Jake, Johnny kidnaps his 15-year old brother Zack (Anton Yelchin), shrugging off the serious consequences that he might face as a result of the criminal act. He and his crew entertain the kid, who actually appears to enjoy his new surroundings, fully unaware of his grief-stricken mother’s (Sharon Stone) state back at home. With Jake vowing revenge and the Police now fully involved in an investigation, Johnny and his crew have a serious problem on their hands. As tension escalates, they look for a way out of their predicament, but it may be too late to walk away clean.

What to Expect: Real-life criminal Jesse James Hollywood, also known as Sean Michaels, is the inspiration behind the character of Johnny Truelove. As a teenage drug dealer, Hollywood was so successful that he was able to acquire a $250,000 property in the San Fernando Valley as well as a multitude of extravagant sports cars. A disagreement over a debt with one of his clients, Benjamin Markowitz, led to a serious conflict when the latter threatened to talk to the police about Hollywood’s car insurance scam. In August of 2000, Hollywood kidnapped Benjamin’s 15-year-old stepbrother, Nicholas, although he initially intended to abduct Benjamin. For a couple of days, Nicholas was treated quite well and even got to socialize with his captors. All that changed when Hollywood realized that he could spend the rest of his life in prison for the kidnapping. On August 8th, just two days after the abduction, Nicholas was shot and killed in the California Mountains by a group of men working for Hollywood.

Article continues below

Jesse James Hollywood went from drug dealer to wealthy teen to criminal outlaw. At only 20, he made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List, becoming the youngest person ever to do so. His story was frequently covered on television shows such as “America's Most Wanted.” He remained free for nearly 5 years, until he was captured in Brazil on March 9th, 2005. He had been working there as an English teacher and living off of $1200 that his parents sent him each month. Since being brought back to America, he has been awaiting his trial in California.

Alpha Dog is an altogether different project for director Nick Cassavetes, whose romantically sweeping drama The Notebook scored such high marks with young audiences a couple of years ago. Cassavetes is the son of the acclaimed and groundbreaking filmmaker John Cassavetes, who is probably better known to mainstream audiences for his fine acting performances in such films as Rosemary’s Baby and The Dirty Dozen. Nick has some pretty tough shoes to fill, but at this point, he has at least established himself as a capable filmmaker. He previously had box-office success with the critically panned Denzel Washington thriller, John Q, and box-office woes with Isn’t She Lovely, which never really found any audience. At any rate, it appears that the director is on his way up the ranks.

When Cassavetes began production on Alpha Dog, Jesse James Hollywood was still at large, so no ending was written in stone yet. Even more interestingly, the director was given special access to the case files while writing the script, which was quite an unusual freedom. It does appear that the overall story arc will follow the actual events closely, although a lot of creative liberties will be taken with the action and dramatization.

With all the starring roles Emile Hirsch has had up to this point, I am shocked that he still remains quite anonymous in the public eye. He’s been listed at the top or near the top of the credits in each of his past six films, which include The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, The Emperor’s Club, The Mudge Boy, Imaginary Heroes, The Girl Next Door, and Lords of Dogtown. His character’s unflinching maliciousness in The Emperor’s Club should be a good indication of the inexorable malevolence that Hirsch should be able to bring to Johnny Truelove. Perhaps playing a notorious figure such as this will be his ticket to glory.

Ben Foster will play Jake Mazursky, whose debt initiates the events that escalate into tragedy. To prepare for his role, Foster consulted a former crystal meth addict friend, who introduced him to a group of people that were willing to share their experiences with him. Most recently, Foster played Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand.

Of course, Justin Timberlake continues his bid to become a successful crossover actor and early buzz suggests he’s getting the job done. No one knows what will become of his film Southland Tales, but director Craig Brewer has been gushing about the job Timberlake has done on Black Snake Moan. Early comments about his performance in Alpha Dog have also been highly positive. In fact, whether the reviewers have liked the film or not, most have acknowledged Timberlake as its standout star. Co-star Bruce Willis, who along with Sharon Stone reportedly brings very little to the movie with his presence, was so impressed with Timberlake that he asked him to be in Die Hard 4.0. As of right now, Timberlake has not accepted the offer.

There have been some bad signs for the production. Alpha Dog finished filming late in 2004, which means that it has been sitting around idly for far too long awaiting a release. After a premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, it quietly disappeared once again. The good news is that it may not be a reflection of the film’s quality, but rather another example of legal issues getting in the way. New Line, the film’s domestic distributor, abandoned the project after a dispute with production company Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. Kimmel and Cassavetes were both looking for a wider theatrical release for the film, which New Line was simply not interested in. Since then, Universal has picked it up and seems glad to give it a wider release. There’s a possibility that Alpha Dog will debut in limited theaters in December in order to qualify for the year-end award season.

Overall, early reviews seem to be mixed. Some have argued the film to be a generic and mindless MTV-style drama with shocking content targeted specifically to attract the teen demographic. Others claim that while the film starts out clichéd, with time it becomes a harrowing and captivating portrait of the characters and the criminal plot. Reportedly, the escalating tension immerses the audience and the film leaves them stunned by the outcome. For the teenybopper crowd, the film should be an eye-opening look at the despicable behavior of a young corrupt mind. For others, this may just come off like a Goodfellas Lite.

In Conclusion: I think Emile Hirsch is on the verge of stardom and it is fantastic to hear positive comments about Justin Timberlake’s performance, but I’m still not entirely convinced about this film. The trailer looks terrific, but I’ve learned not to let that fool me. Whether or not this film will get a limited release to qualify for the Oscars also remains to be seen. I’m honestly hoping for a crime thriller that will go deep inside the minds of the characters, but I’m concerned that it will place too much attention on the lifestyle itself – a simplistic story about the rise and fall of a wannabe gangster rather than a true exploration of the depth’s of a human soul. Still, younger MTV audiences will probably eat this one up.

Similar Titles: Kids, Cruel Intentions, Wassup Rockers
January 12th, 2007 (wide)
May 1st, 2007 (DVD)

Universal Pictures

Nick Cassavetes

Justin Timberlake, Emile Hirsch, Anton Yelchin, Shawn Hatosy, Ben Foster, Sharon Stone, Dominique Swain, Lukas Haas, Bruce Willis, Charity Shea, Heather Wahlquist, Harry Dean Stanton, Courteney Cox, Alan Thicke, Amber Heard, Olivia Wilde

Total: 119 vote(s).

Drama, Suspense

Click here to view site

Rated R for pervasive drug use and language, strong violence, sexuality and nudity

117 min





Alpha Dog at AskMen.com

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