ALPHA DOG, a disturbing film based on actual events, aptly illustrates the fact truth is stranger than fiction. A novelist would never be able to make a story like this up--or make it come across as plausible or believable. So because the film is based on a kidnapping/murder that actually occurred, writer/director Nick Cassavetes lets this riveting story play itself out--and fully incorporate a very real human component in the process.
Interspersed with mock-documentary interviews, ALPHA DOG depicts out-of-control teens, punks, hoodlums, and lousy parents. Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch), a two-bit drug dealer, has a problem: one of his customers, Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), is a deadbeat addict who simply can't, or won't, pay for the dope he's been getting from Johnny. And the more Johnny presses for cash, the more Jake pushes back, until there is nothing but animosity and hatred between them. Opportunity arrives when Johnny stumbles across 15-year-old Zack (Anton Yelchin), Jake's half-brother, and kidnaps him. The message to Jake is clear: pay for the dope. . .or else. Ironically, Zack is completely enjoying his "captivity", as Johnny's pal Frankie (Justin Timberlake) has been assigned to show Zack the ropes, and show him a good time while he's at it. Free from a smothering, overbearing mother (Sharon Stone), Zack is in a hog heaven of his own.
Yet destiny intervenes. The captors learn they have some serious prison time awaiting them for what they have done; suddenly the urge to "off" their captive becomes a viable alternative. And at this point, the situation begins spinning out of control, as Johnny, Frankie, and their entourage are in over their heads, with very tragic consequences. The inevitable is very disturbing and painful to watch, but it is also riveting and acutely compelling.
Everything about ALPHA DOG is riveting, from direction to dialogue (which is very realistic). The large cast excels; Justin Timberlake is surprisingly good; Ben Foster aggressively soaks up the oxygen in every scene he's in (he's over the top in a very believable way). Veterans Bruce Willis, Harry Dean Stanton, and Sharon Stone appear in supporting roles--Stone (in a fat suit and virtually unrecognizable) particularly memorable as the subject of the mock interviews. ALPHA DOG is all too tragic, all too human. . .all too real.
--D. Mikels, Author, The Reckoning