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  Publicity Stills of "Alpha Dog"
(Courtesy from Cathay-Keris Films)

Genre: Crime/Drama
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, Emile Hirsch, Christopher Marquette, Sharon Stone, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Willis
Runtime: 2 hrs
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: R21(Coarse language and violence)
Official Website: www.alphadogmovie.com

Opening Day: 11 October 2007



In the sprawling, privileged neighborhoods around L.A., bored teenagers with too much time and too much money string one hazy day into another, looking for the next thrill--doing suburban imitations of the thug life they idolize from rap music, video games and movies. When you're living without any consequences, anything can happen. And in the hot California summer six years ago, something did.

Inspired by true events, "Alpha Dog" follows three fateful days when the lives of a group of Southern California teens suddenly dead-ended.

Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) controls the drugs on the well-manicured streets of his neighborhood. Where Johnny goes, the party, the girls and his loyal gang follow. When he's double-crossed over missing deal money by raging hothead Jake (Ben Foster), Johnny and his gang impulsively kidnap Jake's little brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin), holding him as a marker and heading to Palm Springs. With no parents in sight, they grow used to having the kid around, and Zack enjoys an illicit summer fantasy of drinking, girls and new experiences.

Out in the desert, Johnny and his boys lose sight that the kid is a hostage who can't just be neatly returned. As the days tick by, the options of how to get themselves out of their situation start to disappear. Good times turn bad and bad turns worse as Johnny finds himself out of his league and with no idea how to fix it...leading all these players toward a shocking conclusion they never saw coming.

Movie Review:

The root cause of the many miscalculations in Nick Cassavetes’ “Alpha Dog” is its compulsion to present stylisation as a ready substitute for grit. In a film that leers and jeers at its own misguided participants, it obfuscates its own condescension by gratifying itself over the steady slope of over-indulged nihilism that lurks behind each frame. Eschewing the need to be riveting, it goes straight for exhilaration, a callow if not energetic sense of purpose that’s sorely needed in its opening section.

It slots itself snugly in the catalogue of sordid stories about suburban mayhem that values the palpitations of pushing the limits of iniquity and routinely points its heavy finger right at the enabling parental units, privileged boredom and the swaggering manipulation of violent cinema – an ironic commentary to be fair, just not with that many pangs of conscious guilt. “Alpha Dog” doesn’t appear to be driven by the urge to explore these facets of impetus but a fetishistic fraternisation with the bewildering violent streak in its insular young, hard-bodied reprobates that starts to border on Larry Clarkesque lasciviousness.

There’s a line of reality that’s consistently blurred in an attempt to moisten the dry constructs of a docu-drama (inspired by the exploits of the youngest suspect ever to make the FBI's most wanted list in the 20 year-old Jesse James Hollywood) by its deranged reconstructions of the characters’ pathological commitments to make bad choices worst and the pleasure taken from its moral corruption and effused decadence. Ben Foster’s unhinged Jewish neo-nazi, Jake Mazursky, channels less of Ryan Gosling’s troubled idiosyncratic turn in “The Believer” but a tempestuous brat struggling with the implications of his younger brother, Zack’s (Anton Yelchin) abduction by mini-kingpin Johnny Truelove (an unconvincingly facile Emile Hirsch). And in Zack, Cassavetes finds his most honest character that unfortunately goes misused in his insistence of using Justin Timberlake’s marquee-hogging role as a marketing springboard and as the unearned emotional centre of the film. To Timberlake’s credit, he seems to have found a familiar niche by channelling a self-conscious and culturally confused poseur with a self-pitying motivation as Truelove’s erstwhile lieutenant, Frankie Ballenbacher.

While Frankie discovers tangential guilt, Zack discovers temptation. Yelchin’s hangdog expressions slowly transform into guilty pleasures of binging on sex and drugs while being in the custody of Truelove’s ragtag crew of sheeps. While never uninteresting, he's largely a passive personality until the film’s strongest moment. The story might have achieved a stark poignancy if it had remained inside Zack’s impressionable psyche, pondering the moral ebb and flow of the unfolding events and circumstances instead of fleeting between the Truelove crew and Jake’s incomprehensible rage.

“Alpha Dog” finds it necessary to ask how did matters escalate as far as it did but the writings on cautionary tales (and “Scarface” posters) were on the wall as soon as hedonism becomes an appropriate response for listlessness. Between the hysterics of teenage malaise and mimicry of soulless genre tropes, Cassavetes’ film never carries with it a moral obligation but panders to personal tragedies (seen through an unfairly caricatured Sharon Stone as a grieving parent) without acknowledging the accountability of individual actions.

Movie Rating:

(Hollow and facile with underwritten characters)

Review by Justin Deimen

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