Alpha Dog – DVD Review

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Own it on DVD May 1, 2007


Nick Cassavetes


Bruce Willis … Sonny Truelove
Emile Hirsch … Johnny Truelove
Fernando Vargas … Tiko ‘TKO’ Martinez
Justin Timberlake … Frankie Ballenbacher
Shawn Hatosy … Elvis Schmidt
Ben Foster…Jake Mazursky
Anton Yelchin…Zack Mazursky
Chris Marquette … Keith Stratten

The Movie

Jesse James Hollywood might not be a name most are familiar with in the criminal underground. John Gotti, Henry Hill and others have gained notoriety over the years for their nefarious exploits; but they had years of exploits of which make great cinematic fodder. What makes Hollywood’s story so remarkable is that at the age of 27 he’s awaiting trial for the first degree murder of Nicholas Markowitz. While the murder of another teen might not be grounds for a major motion picture, Hollywood’s rise to fame as a drug dealer in the greater Los Angeles area in his teens and the subsequent international manhunt has made him a criminal legend at a tender age. Several episodes on America’s Most Wanted and a spot on the FBI’s most wanted list put him light years ahead of anyone in his age bracket who was a felon. Now the story of the crime that would bring him and his whole crew down is being told in the film Alpha Dog. While the names have all been changed, the story remains the same.

Hollywood, in this case, has been renamed as Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch), as has his gang and the victims of his crime. Truelove is owed a debt by Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) and the duo has retaliated against one another over the cash through various means. Truelove crosses the line when he kidnaps Jake’s little brother Zack (Anton Yelchin). Figuring out that kidnapping would give him a life sentence, Johnny decides to kill Zack and buries his bodies near a trail. The film neither a mystery nor a slice of film noir; we know that Zack is fated to die, because in reality Nick Markowitz’s death is the reason why Ryan Hoyt is facing a death sentence and that Jesse Rugge, William Skidmore, and Graham Pressley all have lengthy prison sentences for their roles in it. The film’s conclusion is known when it starts, leaving only the method in which to get there as the unknown in this equation.

Alpha Dog‘s strength is that it has one of the best scripts of the year behind it. Culled from confidential information and files from the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office, the film has an air of authenticity from it because it’s not a fictionalization of events from someone’s perspective on what was reported. This is taken directly from the files the authorities had on Hollywood. While some dramatization has been added for cinematic purposes, the story itself has the little details from the case itself that makes it feel more authentic than other films in the genre.

It feels more authentic because the cast is terrific. Taken from amongst the best of the 17-23 year old acting crop, as well as inserting a top notch stunt casting in hip-hop artist Justin Timberlake – with tattoos abound, he is well prepped for the role. There’s an aura of teenage gangsters due to the subject matter, obviously, but the cast has done their homework and they feel authentic in their roles. Even veteran hands like Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone don’t detract from the film. Nick Cassavetes manages to blend in the older stars with the young hands without their lack of experience showing from comparison.

Seemingly every couple of years a terrific, small-released crime film finds itself an audience after its initial run in theaters. Last year had Brick, a similarly themed film about teenagers and drugs, and it may be the stronger film. Alpha Dog, however, is a terrific film in its own right and is a worthy companion piece.

The Audio

Presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format, the film’s audio format is terrific. With a good soundtrack to start with, the DVD takes full advantage of the format. The sound utilizes the format, working the entire system effectively.

The Video

Presented in a widescreen format, the film as a terrific visual component as well. It’s a dark film just in its themes, as well as in some of its settings, making for a great cinematic experience on DVD.

The Extras

A Cautionary Tale: The Making of Alpha Dog is a featurette focusing on the quirks of making the film. The principles of the cast talk about the main reasons why they joined, mainly because of how much they enjoyed the film’s script. Running a shade over 11 minutes, the featurette focuses on the reasons behind why people either joined the cast or tales of how they bonded on the set.

Witness Timeline features testimony against Jesse James Hollywood from the trial that would eventually put him in prison in regards to the events of the film.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Alpha Dog
(OUT OF 10)






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