Take one part “Boyz N the Hood” and two parts “Kids,” and you get “Alpha Dog,” a slightly atypical look at an increasingly overdone plot: disillusioned youth.Posing as a partial documentary, “Dog” follows the story of real-life drug dealer Jesse James Hollywood, played by Emile Hirsch (“The Girl Next Door” and “Lords of Dogtown”), as the fictionalized Johnny Truelove.
When a deal goes bad, Truelove resorts to kidnapping the younger brother of his sociopathic, drug-addled partner, Jake, played by Ben Foster (“X-Men: The Last Stand” and “Hostage”). Jake’s younger brother Zack, played by Anton Yelchin (“Fierce People” and TV’s “Huff”), is given every opportunity to escape, but declines after finding his captor’s partying ways more than fulfilling for his 15-year-old self.
But, Truelove figures out you can’t just kidnap someone and have not one person care; a realization that leads to the film’s intense ending.
Directed by Nick Cassavetes (“The Notebook” and “John Q”), “Dog” portrays a vivid look into what happens over a three-day period in August 2000, but the plot becomes a backdrop as Cassavetes, like so many filmmakers before him, followed the activities of the youths.
What could have been a truly realistic look into the actual crime instead becomes a commentary on the decline of youth and innocence. The story always remains, but Cassavetes seems reticent to return to it until he has fully explored the impropriety of the youths depicted throughout the film.
While Cassavetes makes a half-assed attempt to actually follow the story line, the exploration of the disillusionment of youth is expertly crafted, especially under the superb acting of the film’s cast.
Hirsch, Olivia Wilde (TV’s “The OC” and “Turistas”), Shawn Hatosy (“Outside Providence” and “A Guy Thing”) and Foster are examples of actors who, when casted to their strengths, can portray their characters to the fullest while turning in performances that could make the surest of parents fear their child’s leisure time.
But, it is Justin Timberlake as Frankie, one of Truelove’s top cohorts, who turns in the best performance of the film. Showing all degrees of emotion in a believable manner, Timberlake, in his first starring role, captures the audience’s empathy as a kid caught in a tumultuous battle he can neither win nor escape. He and the audience know what the outcome will be and yet Timberlake still holds the viewer’s attention, managing to give them hope in a hopeless situation.
While Jesse James Hollywood’s story is told vividly and without remorse, the forefront of “Dogs” is just how deteriorated the American teenager has become. It may have been a fictionalized look into occurrences of those fateful days, but its message is all too real and Cassavetes makes sure that no viewer leaves the theater without it.