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ALPHA DOG – Aaron Zigman

January 12, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Clark Douglas

If any film this year should boast an interesting “making-of-the-movie” documentary, I suspect it will be this one.  Based on a true crime story from a few years ago, director Nick Cassavetes was given an unusual amount of actual case information from the prosecutors, who were hoping the movie would help bring about the capture of one of the suspects who was still at large.  Over the past couple of years, Cassavetes has had a legally questionable amount of access to information surrounding this story, and while I’m not sure about the ethics involved in the creation of this film (or all the specific details, for that matter), I do know that the end result is a powerful, unflinching, yet deeply flawed motion picture.

The characters at the center of this film are teenagers leading disturbingly violent lives, running their own little mob-like crime organization.  The leader of this teenage mafia is Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch), who has presumably been elevated to such a position by his father (Bruce Willis), a man suspected of having some major mob ties.  Johnny is no mere showoff or small time crook, he’s wheeling and dealing big money with people, and guy named Jake who owes him (Ben Foster) isn’t paying.  This leads to a bitter fight between the two, and Johnny kidnaps Jake’s kid brother Zack (Anton Yelchin) as a hostage.

The odd thing is, Zack likes being kidnapped… he’s a 15-year-old kid who’s just had a big fight with his parents, and finds the idea of hanging out with these bad boys pretty cool.  Frankie (Justin Timberlake) is the guy in charge of taking care of Zack until Jake pays up, and they surprisingly begin to develop a pretty good friendship.  While Zack is enjoying his days as a kidnapped kid, his parents (Sharon Stone and David Thornton) are going nuts, and police are suddenly looking everywhere for Zack.  Johnny considers just bringing Zack back (Zack promises not to talk), but then he begins to wonder whether it would be safer just to get rid of the kid altogether.

This is a brutal, savage study of teenage crime, which by it’s very nature makes it an incredibly sad film.  There’s a lot of tough talk (everybody uses the f-word incessantly, probably because they don’t know many other words), and a good deal of violence, but the realization that this essentially an extreme version of kids playing grown-ups adds a level of gravitas to the proceedings.  These are not particularly bright individuals, mostly due to all the drinking and drugs in their lives, but the film does not view them with a self-righteous superiority, rather, it seems to pity them, and even allows us to empathize with some of them.  One character comments at one point in the film that he’d like to “take a class, go to Europe, or learn the guitar,” stating that “I guess I don’t like the fact that I don’t really know how to do anything.”

The performances range from fair to superb.  Emile Hirsch isn’t really very interesting as Johnny, so it’s odd that after the film reaches its terrifying climax, Cassavetes elects to spend another twenty minutes or so with him.  He’s one of the least engaging characters in the film, I’m not sure why the makers of the film feel we’ll care much about him.  On the other hand, Justin Timberlake is surprisingly superb as Frankie… he provides a much-needed depth to a movie that nearly drowns on occasion in it’s own superficial depravity.  Timberlake proves himself to be more than a mere pop star cashing in on his name.  Anton Yelchin gives Zack a sense of broken innocence, and Ben Foster is also quite tremendous as a raging bull older brother.  The adult stars contribute nicely, too, with Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, and Harry Dean Stanton doing a fine job with their small roles.

The music is by composer Aaron Zigman, who seems destined to be the next John Debney.  Honestly, there seems to be very little score in the film, only little snippets of emotional music here, techno instrumentals there, the most notable portions appearing towards the end of the film.  The majority of the movie is underscored with a wide array of rock, techno, and hip-hop selections, but the most notable use of music in the film is over the opening credits, when Eva Cassidy performs “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” over a montage of home video clips of young children.

Again, I can’t say that I liked the film, it’s really an extremely unpleasant experience, and at times I thought Cassavetes slipped out of observing the characters and slipping into sensationalizing them.  Still, the raw power of this angry crime story is undeniable, and Cassavetes hits more than he misses, something that could not be said of his previous “angry issue film”, “John Q”.  Cautiously recommended to viewers with a strong stomach.

Rating: **½

Track Listing:

  • Over the Rainbow (performed by Eva Cassidy)
  • Enemy and I (performed by Lazarus)
  • Bullet and a Target (performed by Citizen Cope)
  • Jake Breaks In (performed by Paul Bushnell)
  • Caribou Lou (performed by Tech N9ne)
  • Revolving (performed by Paul Bushnell)
  • Slither (performed by Tech N9ne)
  • Liar (performed by Miredys Peguero and Paul Graham)
  • Winner (performed by Paul Bushnell)
  • Let’s Chill (performed by Mic Holden with Maya and Renee Rogers)
  • Dragonfly (performed by Miredys Peguero and Paul Bushnell)
  • La La Land (performed by Tech N9ne and Gina Cassavetes)
  • Pool Party (performed by Mic Holden)
  • Never Give Up (performed by Mic Holden)
  • At the Site/Driving to the Site
  • We Are the Lost (performed by Lawrence Faljean)
  • Basketball (performed by Lowd)
  • Cookie Monster (performed by Paul Graham and Paul Bushnell)
  • Elvis Arrested
  • Weightlifting (performed by Lowd)
  • Marco Polo (performed by Lowd and Cassie Simone)
  • Night and Day (performed by Tech N9ne)

Running Time: ## minutes ## seconds

Milan (2007)

Music composed by Aaron Zigman. Recorded and mixed by Michael Stern. Edited by Michael Jay and Angie Rubin. Score produced by Aaron Zigman.

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