Justin Timberlake as Frankie Ballenbacher in Alpha Dog (2006)

Yelchin Needs Some Truelove

"Alpha Dog" may be based on a true story but it also appears to be one of those movies which comes along once in a while which resonates with a generation, I say appears because most of the opinions I have heard which effuse about this movies greatness come from a certain group of people. I'm not one of those, in fact I am not someone who can effuse about "Alpha Dog" as for the most I found it remarkably ordinary, stylish but not really captivating. Having said that there are moments of greatness, both Ben Foster and Justin Timberlake deliver strong performances and when it comes to what in some ways should have been the climax it does have an emotional punch. Unfortunately these are just moments and a couple of performances because beyond that there is a lot of noise and a movie which goes on longer than it should.

As the son of Sonny Truelove (Bruce Willis), a feared underworld figure, Johnny (Emile Hirsch) has his own gang of middle-class kids who do drugs and party hard. But Johnny has a problem in Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster - Hostage) a psychotic druggy that owes him money and doesn't buy into Johnny being someone to be feared. With Jake not paying up Johnny and his crew kidnap his 15 year old brother Zack (Anton Yelchin) who is happy to be held hostage because Johnny's right hand man Frankie (Justin Timberlake - Edison) treats him well. The two come close as Frankie warms to the fun loving Zack but with Johnny discovering that he is either going to have to face the psychotic Jake or end up in prison things spiral out of control.

Ben Foster as Jake Mazursky in Alpha Dog (2006)

There are two clear halves to "Alpha Dog" and the first half is about rich white boys pretending to be gangsters. Tattooed up and talking trash we enter the movie and are hit full force by these white kids who hang around Johnny Truelove because he is their tough talking boss and the son of Sonny Truelove whose reputation makes people fear him. Now there is a lot of character building during this first half as it also sets up the storyline of Jake Mazursky owing Johnny money but the biggest thing it sets up is that Johnny is not tough and neither are his friends. They act tough, do drugs, pick on those they can intimidate but when it comes to real trouble they are chicken shit. The thing is that this first half is a lot of noise which goes on and on detracting from the actual storyline which is the issues between Jake and Johnny as well Jakes little brother Zack feeling suffocated by an oppressive mother.

Anyway the bits of story that there are lead to Johnny and his crew kidnapping Zack and this is where things actually become interesting because we have Johnny forcing Frankie to baby-sit Zack. What is interesting is that they become friends, in fact Zack becomes like a little brother to Frankie as he is shown the party life style. And so with Frankie and Zack having become close and with things spiralling out of control as everyone involved either faces prison or the psychotic Jake it gets tough on Frankie.

Now the trouble is that there seems to be a lot of padding to "Alpha Dog" the first half feels like padding and during the second half it goes on too long as director Nick Cassavetes feels the need to bring complete closure to the story. It is annoying because at just over 2 hours "Alpha Dog" isn't a long movie but huge chunks of it could have been cut out to make it more entertaining and better paced.

But there are some real knockout elements to "Alpha Dog" starting with the performances which all around are solid with both Emile Hirsch and Shawn Hatosy delivering unique characters, but they are outshone by Justin Timberlake and Ben Foster. Whilst I am often critical of singers turning actors Timberlake's emotional performance is truly brilliant and you really get to understand his character and his dilemma. On one hand he has to act tough, he is part of Johnny's crew but on the other he truly has warmed to Zack and so when things get serious he is stuck in the middle an emotional conflict which you can see him trying to deal with. And then there is Ben Foster who delivers not only the look of a man on the edge thanks to drugs but also the ferocity of his psychotic outbursts are terrifying. In the scene where Johnny calls him and Jake breaks into a forceful almost biblical outburst you are truly frightened.

What this all boils down to is that "Alpha Dog" probably does appeal to a generation because it is youthful and full of attitude but that side failed to entertain men. Instead it is the moments, the emotional big scene which should have been the ending and two knockout performances from Ben Foster and Justin Timberlake which make it worth watching.