Alpha Dog
Universal // R // January 12, 2007
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted January 14, 2007
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Writer/director Nick Cassavetes positions "Alpha Dog" as a story rooted in fact, using the framework of a documentary to fictionalize the strange series of events that surrounded the life of Jesse James Hollywood, and a murder that brought his drug empire down in 1999.

In the film, Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is a teenage drug lord living a life of continuous parties and unyielding power with his Southern California friends (including Justin Timberlake and Shawn Hatosy). When his patience runs out with one of his deadbeat associates (Ben Foster, "Hostage"), Truelove decides to kidnap his teenage brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin), and hold him for ransom. When Zack endears himself to this inner circle of dealers, dopers, and gangsta wannabes, Truelove finds it impossible to keep him around, and orders his friends to murder the boy.

It's hopeless to decipher the intent of "Alpha Dog." On one hand, Cassavetes pushes his film to resemble a true-life murder saga, spreading the finer details of the crime around, such as identifying witnesses, locations, and critical evidence times. On the other hand lies the true nature of the picture: a dreary, sordid story of stupid kids acting like lobotomized adults.

"Alpha" is punishing cinema, made worse because Cassavetes was once a more intuitive filmmaker interested in the human condition ("Unhook the Stars," "She's So Lovely"). "Alpha" couldn't care less about reality and consequence; it lives in the moment with these privileged SoCal morons, inhaling their daily diet of marijuana smoke and observing the increasing ridiculousness of their rap-video-fueled bravado. Truthfully, there's perhaps 40 minutes of actual story to "Alpha" somehow stretched over two very abusive hours of frightful dialogue, silly direction, and just abysmal acting. Oh my, the acting.

Starring some of young Hollywood's most egregious abusers of brood, "Alpha" is mummified with method. Aggressively terrible actors like Foster and Hatosy (along with Dominique Swain) work overtime to convey the sense of hysteria and adulation that followed Truelove. In a just world, these actors would all be ripe recipients of the Razzie award come next year.

Their perfume of spaz is only bested by Hirsch's hysterical turn as Truelove. A diminutive actor who looks about 12 years old and has all the physical presence of a colicky baby, Hirsch is asked to play a ruthless, cornered drug lord who inspires fear in all he encounters. If you had the displeasure of seeing this actor's turn as a balls-first Latino thug in the skateboard clunker "Lords of Dogtown," you already know it's like watching a lamb trying to act like a lion.

A special corner of Hell is reserved for Sharon Stone, here playing Zack's mother. While keeping to a small cameo for most of the picture (along with Bruce Willis), Stone is handed center stage near the end of the film when her character is interviewed in present day about the crime. Buried in a Glickesque fat suit, Stone is given carte blanche to huff and puff her way through a rainbow of complex emotions in an excruciatingly endless scene that serves little purpose other than to pump some starpower into this winded animal of a film.

"Alpha Dog" depicts the worst of humanity, but doesn't possess a single human moment. The picture vomits endless sex, violence, and stupidity on a grand scale, but has little character insight to offer the audience. Essentially, the experience is watching awful actors playing dumb people in a story that carries no weight or emotional investment. This is one pup that needs to be put to sleep.

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