Josh's Review: Alpha Dog Not the Leader of the Pack
by Josh Green
January 15, 2007
Based on true events that led to the capture of Jesse James Hollywood, a drug dealer who became one of the youngest men ever on the FBI's most wanted list, Alpha Dog depicts the brutal lifestyle of some "gangster white boys" in California. The plot centers around the awkward kidnapping of Zack Mazursky (Anton Yelchin) from his family in order to force his brother Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) to pay back money that he owes drug lord Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch). There are plenty of other stars packed in the film including Sharon Stone, Bruce Willis, and new comer Justin Timberlake.
I have very mixed feelings about Alpha Dog. I feel like somewhere in it there was a great film. The movie acts almost like a bastard son of a documentary, showing interviews with specific characters and giving specific information while trying to wrap itself around a narrative structured story. I admire director Nick Cassavetes for trying to keep a realistic feeling with the interviews and facts, but this element is used at very random times in the movie which causes the film to have almost no specific structure at all. It takes away from the narrative story, which is what the audience is emotionally invested for the majority of the film. The movie starts off way too slow, which should have instead been spent to build a solid amount of character development. The film rather uses its 40 minute epilogue to showcase all the characters getting stoned and pooping in each others living rooms.
The acting is over the top, in a bad way - I don't understand the direction Cassavetes was trying to go with the acting. Once again, this takes away from any realism the film tries to grasp. The terrible dialogue didn't help with the actors performances either. There are some notable performances that stand out greatly when compared to the rest in the film. Mainly from Anton Yelchin who plays the 15 year old kid who gets kidnapped. He gives a very likeable performance to a character that really enjoys the life of being kidnapped. Justin Timberlake also gives a very refreshing performance - after 15 minutes in you will forget that he is the one who brought sexy back.
Spoiler Alert! Apart from the bad directing, acting, and dialogue, there is one scene that really hit me in the film. The scene involves the suggested murder of Zack Mazursky in the desert. This is the only scene in the film that had any sort of purpose to retell this true life story. There is actual tension and depth between the characters and the outcome of the scene is brutally honest and impressive.
There are many factors as to why I am not too impressed with Alpha Dog. The one element that I have saved until now to mention in regards to why I disliked it is the fact that there seemed to be absolutely no reason to tell this story. Why invest in making a film, especially a supposedly true story like this one, and not have any message to convey or feelings to express on the issue? With a real life story this compelling and unique it deserves to have a much better film made that is based off of it.