Like Larry Clark’s Bully or Tim Hunter’s excellent River’s Edge, Alpha Dog is a fascinating based-on-a-true tale about, ostensibly, the cheapness of teenage life. Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is a mid-level drug dealer. The money’s good, his crew is protective, and life — such as it is — is a blast. Maybe it’s his personality, maybe he’s just sampled deeply from his, ahem, own product range, but Johnny sees life as free of consequences. There is justice in his world though, but it’s typically swift and brutal. Cross Johnny, and Johnny will hit back.
Or rather Johnny will get his crew to hit back. Like his father (an excellent downbeat Bruce Willis), the real power behind the drug business, Johnny tends not to get his hands dirty. Unlike his father though, Johnny doesn’t always think things through. So, when Jake (Ben Foster), a hotheaded underling fails to come up with the money he owes, Johnny wants revenge and kidnaps Jake’s younger brother Zack (Anton Yelchin). What seems like a stupid idea slowly becomes an oddly sweet one. The crew – particularly Frankie (Justin Timberlake) – get used to having Zach around and Zach is having the time of his life. He’s a cool kid and it’s easier to let him participate in the fun than have to watch him all the time. But it obviously can’t last, and Johnny can’t be seen to go easy on Jake. When they finally realise that Zach’s a hostage, the police are involved, huge prison sentences are hanging over them and the options are dwindling, quick — and dreadful — decisions are made.
This is not then what you’d call a feelgood movie. It is, however, what you’d call a brave, interesting and haunting movie. While Hirsch is the centre of the film, Alpha Dog lives and dies on the interaction between Timberlake and Yelchin both of whom are incredible. As a bloke, it’s slightly depressing to think about Justin Timberlake now. His conquests include Britney Spears, Cameron Diaz and Scarlett Johansson (allegedly). He’s got millions of dollars in the bank. He’s talented and popular. Now it appears the bugger can act as well. Frankly chaps, our only hope is that he has a really tiny penis.
This is not an easy film to watch and there is a sense about two thirds of the way through that the director, Nick Cassavetes, has bitten off more than he can chew. However, it’s a minor flutter and the ending (despite Sharon Stone’s dodgy make-up) shows that he is, after all, his father’s son. It’s a very impressive piece of filmmaking, a fine ensemble piece and the sort of the story that lingers in your mind for several days after.