"Alpha Dog" tells the story of Jesse James Hollywood, here fictionalized as Johnny Truelove, who at 20 was one of the youngest men in history on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list.
Johnny, played with cunning, simmering rage by Emile Hirsch, is a marijuana dealer and penny-ante loan shark successful enough to afford a nice house. He is the alpha: He commands a small fleet of SoCal tattooed riffraff without goals or hopes.
One of Johnny's transactions goes wrong; it involves a miscreant named Jake Mazursky (played with demonic intensity by Ben Foster) who owes him a pitiful sum. Johnny and Jake, now enemies, beat up not each other but each other's sofas, then look to do some real damage, when Johnny and his pals come across little Zack Mazursky (Anton Yelchin), Jake's younger brother. Zack isn't a player in the underworld of the 'burbs; he's 15, a dewy high school boy who still drinks milk with his meals. But Johnny is looking for leverage to get his money back, so he and his droogs pick up the boy.
The gist of the movie is Zack's strange incarceration. Among Johnny's droogs, the leading wastrel is Frankie (played brilliantly by Justin Timberlake), who takes a shine to Zack. The two of them go off on a weekend-long orgy of drugs, beer, partying and various other pleasures.
Nick Cassavetes, who wrote and directed "Alpha Dog," has one of those anthropological feels for the banality of the quotidian, as it's practiced in the sunny climes of Southern California. The movie suffers from an uncertain structure, but it boasts an extraordinary naturalism, not particularly flattering. Sharon Stone has a brilliant, harsh turn as Zack's mom, and both Bruce Willis and Harry Dean Stanton have good turns as the elder generations of Trueloves. But the movie belongs to its youngsters, and it's a real eye-opener.
-- Stephen Hunter (Jan. 12, 2007)
Contains violence, sexual innuendo and extreme profanity.