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alpha dog
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Alpha Dog

Starring Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone
Written and Directed by Nick Cassavetes

IN SHORT: A true indie experience. [Rated R for pervasive drug use and language, strong violence, sexuality and nudity. 117 minutes]

True, it's expected that Yours Cranky, as a matter of course and habit, derides and disdains most independent arthouse oriented films. We do so not because said films are independent and arthouse oriented. We do so because most of the ones we see are self-indulgent to the nth extreme. This is not the case with Nick Cassavetes' Alpha Dog. IF anything, Alpha Dog reassures us that Mister Cassavetes learned his craft well from his father John, one of the few indie directors we admired and studied way back in our film school days.

Here's the only problem for us, in re Alpha Dog. Cranky admits to reaching the general definition of middle age sometime in the last couple of years -- we're not fifty but we feel like we're eighty -- and with that aging state comes a general lack of tolerance for an overabundance of four letter words beginning with the letter "f". True, we used to talk just like the characters seen in Alpha Dog (and got broke of that habit by a very fine, blonde haired femme DJ that we knew here in the Big Apple). We don't object to the use of that word. In this particular film it is just overused, pushing us to a state of near boredom, even as a gripping drama plays out on screen. That's all the warning we'll give. You know your tolerance levels better than we do.

The "alpha dog" in this story is one Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch), a well connected drug dealer in his native neighborhoods in Southern California. Johnny has his own crew of hangers-on, all enjoying the constant partying of bored middle class SoCal youth, and all turning a blind eye towards the nasty side of Johnny's work. That nasty side includes certain deals planned with one Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) who, we later discover, is $50,000 dollars in the hole to a different dealer, and has just screwed Johnny out of a mere $1200 in a deal gone bad. Jake has gone running to his parents (David Thornton and Sharon Stone) for money to cover his debts once too often and is turned away. Jake's fifteen year old brother Zack (Anton Yelchin), himself having parental problems, wants to run off with his bro but is told no. Zack storms out into the 'burbs on foot, unfortunately to be found by Johnny and his crew. Two blinks later, a hostage is taken -- Johnny calls kidnap victim Zack a "marker" to ensure Jake pays his debt -- and the wheels of this story are set in motion.

Problem is, kidnapping is a serious crime. It'll get you life, if convicted. So what's to keep the bad guys from going all the way to flat out murder? Well, maybe even bad guys have a moral compass. Or maybe, with Cassavetes' careful labeling of bit characters as "witness #1" and so forth, the viewing audience knows way in advance that said moral compass is on the fritz. Or maybe it's not. We're not spilling, other than to report that reg'lar folk sitting behind us at a screening muttered "I didn't think that was going to happen."

There's a real fine line in the sand drawn between the nasty business of keeping a kidnapped hostage and the all-party all-the-time lifestyle these restless youths want to achieve. Zack, strangely enough, is offered more than one chance to skip out of the situation by underling Frankie Ballenbacher (Justin Timberlake). Well, it's not so strange to anyone who has been through the teen years of budding rebellion and the joys of firstsex. 'nuff said.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Alpha Dog , he would have paid . . .


Alpha Dog is a serious and very well constructed film. We know there are readers who disdain the regular offerings at the cineplex and stick strictly to the local arthouse, where you'll find this film, for sure. Given popstar names like Timberlake, you'll find Alpha Dog at the cineplex, too. Given your tolerance for the f-word, choose your poison.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.