Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Alpha Dog- Review by guest contributor Joseph Wren

Director: Nick Cassavetes
Screenwriter: Nick Cassavetes
Runtime: 122 minutes
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 20 April

Well, here it is - the opening film of the Justin Timberlake film festival that will be 2007 (Black Snake Moan, Southland Tales, and Shrek the Third forthcoming). Alpha Dog is the new film by director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, She’s So Lovely). The cast includes Hollywood veterans like Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, and Harry Dean Stanton, who support next-generation stars Timberlake, Emile Hirsh (The Girl Next Door), and Ben Foster (X-Men: The Last Stand).
No question that the personnel here warrant interest. As for the material, Alpha Dog is based on true events surrounding the abduction and murder of a 15-year-old Californian boy in 1999. Cassavetes introduces the story through a documentary-style interview with middle-aged tough guy Sonny Truelove (Bruce Willis – with hair!), father of the suspected killer Johnny (Hirsh). These docu-drama bits appear inconsistently throughout the film, though the main narrative follows the suburban thug life of the obnoxious California rich kids involved in the crime.

We’re introduced to a group of seemingly financially privileged young men and women who play with guns, slap each other around, and dabble in the drug trade. Bald, tattooed psychopath Jake (Foster, doing his best to imitate Ed Norton in American History X) has a financial dispute with ringleader Johnny Truelove, and all hell breaks loose. In an attempt to flex some muscle, Johnny and his crew, including close pal Frankie (Timberlake, who spends most of the film bare-chested), kidnap Jake’s younger brother, Zach. We know that things will end badly for Zach, because every time anyone sees the young man after the abduction, titles flash onto the screen labelling any extra as a “witness” and assigning them a number (there are 38 in total). As far as kidnappings go, Zach has it pretty good (until the end, of course). He skinny dips with girls who are excited at his “stolen boy” status and partakes in 'botanical' upkeep with Frankie. All of this comes way too late in the film, because by this time all we’ve seen is about 80 minutes of Justin Timberlake and pals sucking on bongs and spitting out an array of expletives that would make Martin Scorsese blush (the word “fuck” is spewed at least 300 times). The misogyny and homophobia is rampant; Timberlake sums it up with one line “I fuck bitches, you’re a homo,” and though I assume Cassavetes found it closer to real life to have his characters be hateful idiots, it doesn’t do much for the film, or the audience.

That being said, the climax of the film is pulled off with the requisite amount of tension, and Timberlake finally gets a chance to shine, if only for a moment, before we’re confronted with a truly awful scene of Sharon Stone in a fat suit discussing suicide. Foster, Hirsh, and yes, even JT deserve mention for their rabidly energetic performances, which are desperate for direction. Cassavetes wastes all of this potential and what is a genuinely interesting story on a stale, humourless, and stereotypical take on the true-life crime genre.

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