Director/Screenwriter: Nick Cassavetes

Producers: Sidney Kimmel, Chuck Pacheco

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin


U.S.A., 2006, 122 min.

SUNDANCE 2006 Closing Night Film




*Nick Cassavetes captures the driving energy and sordid anomie of contemporary youth culture in his unflinchingly told cautionary tale, Alpha Dog. Based on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood, a midlevel drug dealer whose ambition and ruthlessness led him to become the youngest man ever to appear on the FBI's Most Wanted list, Alpha Dog offers a glimpse of the rawness and reality of teenage life on the edge.

The films stars Emile Hirsch as a teenage suburban drug dealer, Johnny Truelove, whose "gangsta" fueled lifestyle of sex, guns, and drugs is far over the top of customary adolescent restraints. When a competitor/client cheats him, he and his posse "kidnap" the client's younger brother, who is more than willing to spend days partying with little sense or anticipation of his fate. But as events spiral out of Johnny's control, the real consequences of his deadly games become inexorable.

Featuring a marvelous ensemble cast that includes Justin Timberlake (whose work is a revelation), Ben Foster (equally so), Bruce Willis, and Sharon Stone, this is a dense, galvanizing filmmaking, seething with tension and culminating in a tragedy that would be shocking if we weren't so aware of the kind of world we live in, a place with kids who live without mores, parents who don't have a clue, and ongoing conflict between the lingering innocence of youth and moral disintegration and dissolution.

*Summary by Geoffrey Gilmore, SUNDANCE Film Programmer



This was the Closing Night film of this year's Sundance Film Festival, so there was quite a large amount of hype regarding its premiere. Most of the actors were there, the director, and many of the remaining festival celebrities at the festival. I felt the gathering was really all for nothing; I can't stand most of this film. I just don't like it when the young white actors of my generation feel that to really show off their acting skillsto the moviegoing public, they need to take a page out of the Al Pacino Scarface book of acting. Every mannerism, every word spoken feels so overplayed and calculated to show how 'gangsta' these guys really are. They swear non-stop, they have tattoos all over their bodies, and they affect that street-slang type of talk that feels so unnatural coming out of a white guy's mouth. Three of the worst over-acting offenders are Dominique Swain as a hyper-loud sister, Ben Foster, who tries to be demonstrating a Ryan Gosling-type performance revelation and just comes off silly. Finally, Sharon Stone's breakdown scene in fat suit comes off as manipulative and disgustingly cloying.

With all the negative praise I have heaped on this film, I would like to mention that in this style of anything-goes acting, Justin Timberlake comes off fairly well. Most of the reason why he works in his role is that JT is part of the climactic killing of a young boy. Justin Timberlake effectively portrays mercy for the poor young boy and a necessary viciousness concerning the act that needs to be done. Also, the film looked good, the shaky-cam and the colors worked nice to portray an out-of-control situation in the bleached valleys of Southern California.

After the screening, Nick Cassavetes, the director got up on stage with the actors to answer some questions. He hesitated when asked what his feelings were regarding the actions of Jesse James Hollywood. I was surprised by his waffling on this issue. From his own film's point of view, Jesse James is portrayed as a spoiled rich kid who makes some stupid mistakes that result in the death of a young innocent. Mr. Cassavetes hesitation really seemed to rub some of the audience the wrong way and I can say that I was definetly one of them. I can understand that the director can not allow himself to be pigeon-holed into any one opinion regarding his incendiary film material, especially when the real-life drama of Jesse James Hollywood is still playing out, but he defeinetly seemed to be making a point of claiming that a large portion of Jesse's faults lied in society's effects on him. According to Cassavetes own film, it was more about the posturing attitude and pride of the character that led to his downfall, so it is confusing to me why Mr. Cassavetes would defend such a character. But it was funny to see how gushing Justin Timberlake's young fans were, even at an event such as Sundance. He happily obliged his fans with an improvised little dance on stage which satisfied those there for JT.


written 4/22/06