Alpha Dog

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner18/04/2007

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 102 mins

Emotionally engaging, impressively directed and frequently tense drama with strong performances from a terrific ensemble cast.

What's it all about?
Directed by Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook) and based on a true story, Alpha Dog stars Emile Hirsch as Johnny Truelove, the son of a mobster (Bruce Willis) and a wannabe gangster on the LA scene. When hot-headed Jake (Ben Foster) stiffs Johnny on a deal, Johnny retaliates by kidnapping Jake's 15-year-old brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin) and holding him as collateral.

Johnny instructs his henchmen Frankie (Justin Timberlake) and Elvis (Shawn Hatosy) to look after Zack, so the pair take him along with them for the day and Zack ends up having a pretty great time, bonding with Frankie and having a series of coming-of-age adventures involving girls, drugs, booze and pool parties. However, as the hours turn into days, Jake goes on the warpath and Zack's distraught mother (Sharon Stone) involves the police, leaving Johnny in an increasingly difficult situation.

The Good
The ensemble cast deliver terrific performances, with Hirsch, Yelchin and surprisingly Timberlake the stand-outs. There's also colourful support from Sharon Stone, Harry Dean Stanton (as Bruce Willis' right-hand man) and Ben Foster, particularly during his off the wall kung fu freak-out scene.

Cassavetes ratchets up the tension by interspersing the action with after-the-fact interviews, so you spend the entire film dreading the inevitable ending, regardless of how much fun Zack is having at the time. In less capable hands, this could have diffused the suspense of the movie, but Cassavetes' direction and Yelchin's performance combine to ensure that you are gripped throughout.

The Great
The film is thematically similar to Larry Clark's Bully and it has similar points to make about the consequences of not standing up for what's right, as well as dropping subtle hints about ineffective parenting.

Worth seeing?
In short, Alpha Dog is a gripping, impressively directed and emotionally devastating drama with terrific performances across the board. Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

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Content updated: 19/10/2019 01:32

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