1999, Claremont, California. Middle-class kids, in their 20s, talk trash, wave guns, hang out in a pack. Johnny Truelove, drug dealer and son of a underworld figure, threatens Jake Mazursky, an explosive head case who owes Johnny money; Jake responds by breaking into Johnny's house. On impulse, Johnny and a couple pals kidnap Jake's 15-year-old brother, Zach. Zach's okay with it, figuring his brother will pay the debt soon. Johnny assigns his buddy Frankie to be Zach's minder, and they develop a brotherly friendship. Zach parties with his captors as things begin to spin out of control. Group think, amorality, and fear of prison assert a hold on the pack. Is Zach in danger? Written by
The film was originally to be distributed by New Line Cinema. When New Line requested edits to the film that the director didn't want to make, they sold the movie to Universal, which delayed release by a year, but kept the film intact. See more »
The film is set in 1999, but several background vehicles are newer than that, including a 2001 Volvo V70, 2005 Chrysler Town and Country, 2001 GMC Yukon Denali, and 2003 Toyota Sequoia. See more »
You wanna know what this is all about? You can say it's about drugs or guns or disaffected youth, or whatever you like. But this whole thing is about parenting. It's about taking care of your children. You take care of yours, I take care of mine.
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After the end credits, the following caption appears: 'For Nicky, May Your Slumber Be Blessed'. 'Nicky' is Nicholas Markowitz, the 'true' name of ill-fated Zack Mazursky played by Anton Yelchin. See more »
An important film that is emotionally heart wrenching and devastating
I attended the World Premiere of "Alpha Dog" at the Sundance Film Festival. This is a tough review to write because I certainly don't want to spoil it. Someone said, "The film was amazing, heart wrenching towards the end, and very very well done," I agree with that 100%. Especially the heart wrenching description. I'll say this right now. Nothing, NOTHING prepares you for the climax of the film. And what's absolutely amazing is that, being based on a true story, we already know going in how it ends. Can you imagine what an amazing feat of film-making that is? To make a movie, where many KNOW the ending going in, and yet walk away feeling so emotionally devastated and drained that it's hard to talk about afterward?
I was blown away. Absolutely blown away. Even knowing all that I knew, the story, the actors, the characters, even knowing all that, the emotional wave that takes over and propels the film through its last act is just beyond any words. I can truly say that I will remember the ending of this film for the rest of my life. Throw away everything you THINK this film is about. Because it is not. I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen to me emotionally and I was absolutely devastated. This film MUST be seen.
My biggest fear is that people won't go to see this film because of preconceived notions about what it involves. The other is that they won't stay with it long enough to see the real story develop. In my opinion, this is not about drug dealers or white suburban kids acting tough or sex or drugs or a gang that lived lives of excessive behavior. This is not an R-rated Afterschool Special on the dangers of spoiled youth running wild. Or a bunch of kids who went bad. Yes, all these elements are there and play a part. But anyone who thinks that's the essence of the story, and doesn't give it a chance, will miss out on what I believe is one of the most moving and powerful sequences ever captured on film.
I'll tell you right now that I was not expecting this film to turn out the way it did. I don't want to give too much away, but director Nick Cassavetes has described it as an ensemble cast, and I agree somewhat. Nobody is really "the star" of the film. If we break it down into 3 acts, here is how I would describe it, if I absolutely had to answer that question.
ACT 1: Emile Hirsch -- the story centers on him, to some extent.
ACT 2: Justin Timberlake -- the story moves to his character. I was actually surprised at how his role begins to grow as Emile's "diminishes." Although remember, these are just very rough opinions on my part.
ACT 3: And THIS was the big surprise for me -- Anton Yelchin. At one point I actually heard myself saying in my head that he is the star of this movie, if there is one.
I could go on...Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, Chris Marquette, Sharon Stone, Amanda Seyfried, Dominique Swain, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Willis...I put them in alphabetical order because it wouldn't be fair to rank them. All turn in shockingly powerful performances. But the story is not about Emile's character. It's not about Justin's character. It is about Anton's character. That was the biggest surprise for me and I was not prepared for how emotional the film would get towards the end. As director Nick Cassavetes himself said in the Q&A after the screening, Anton is "the heart and soul of the film." Just a warning...it is very hard to watch in parts. The bottom line is this: the first act of the film sets the scene for what these guys' lives were like. The language, the violence, the drugs, the sex, they were all a part of their lifestyle and it is not sugarcoated. But more importantly, it is an assault on the senses because without it, the rest of the film -- and the emotional impact it has -- wouldn't be as believable. You have to experience how sick these guys' behavior was on a daily basis to appreciate and understand how sick were the actions they take later in the film. And it's the actions that they take later in the film that are at the heart of what the movie is about.
The first half of the film is hard to sit through. But the second half makes it all worth it. You cannot get the goose bumps and feel the emotions and the heartbreak of their crime without knowing how depraved these guys were. It is a film with one of those moments -- about halfway through the film, just when you think you know what it's about, just when maybe you're starting to wonder if it's really going to be worth watching, that feeling begins to come over you. That feeling that says, "ohhh wait a minute. NOW I see what's going on here." Then the tears start to well up as you begin to realize what this is really all about.
Once the real story starts to unfold, you forget about the language and the violence and the drugs and the sex. Because now you have entered their world, and the emotional impact of what comes later is just heart wrenching. This is one of those rare films that deserve the label "important." It is polarizing, to be sure. It's not everyone's cup of tea. But if you keep an open mind and are willing to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours (although, ironically, this is based on a true story) you will be moved, you will be affected, and you will be changed. "Alpha Dog" will do that, and that's a rare feat of film-making.
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