Alpha Dog

December 27th, 2007 DVD Reviews, Film, Xpress

In the late 1990s, a bunch of low rent drug dealers — white LA kids who fancied themselves as gangbangers — landed themselves in hot water. Johnny (Emile Hirsch) and one of his creditors, Jake (Ben Foster) entered a feud over money, one of many.

Jake responded by taking three of his homies and trashing Johnny’s house one night. In response to that, Johnny and his crew snatched Jake’s younger brother Zack (Anton Yelchin) off the street and kidnapped him.

What transpired over the course of the next week or so went down in LA infamy, and Alpha Dog is writer/director Nick Cassavetes’ uniquely stylised take on events. Zack and Johnny’s offsider Frankie (Justin Timberlake) form an unlikely bond as the kid has the time of his life, partying with hot chicks, drinking and playing video games, in no hurry to return to the oppressive fold of his parents’ home.

Alpha Dog looks like a Hollywood thriller — it’s slick, well acted, and full of the sort of iconic fixtures that comprise any rap video. The kids involved make the mistake of thinking the guns, drugs and money make them grown up, but when the shit starts hitting the fan, nobody knows what to do and the events play out to their confronting conclusion.

But Cassavetes also plays it like a documentary. Each person to see the young Zack as the crew take him around their haunts are depicting real witnesses who saw the real Zack’s hours with the gang, everyone from the girls he parties with to the couple hiking in the mountains at night where Frankie and Johnny’s other right hand man Elvis (Shawn Hatosy) take Zack to the movie’s shocking climax.

A modern moral fable dressed as a gangster rap homage, it gets under your skin in a way you don’t expect. The single bum note is Cassavetes’ decision to put his actors in a car with the passing landscape painted in behind them digitally, like the 1940s rolling-landscape trick. It’s cheap and looks out of place.

The only extras are a witness gallery, outlining the 30-odd people to see Zack on his travels, which lets you jump right to the movie where that witness is depicted as seeing him, and a pretty dry ten minute making-of.

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