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PCR # 355  (Vol. 8, No. 2)  This edition is for the week of January 8--14, 2007.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Alpha Dog"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith
Three stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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Starring: Emile Hirsch, Shawn Hatosy, Justin Timberlake and Bruce Willis
Directed by: Nick Cassavetes
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 hour 57 mins

Casual movie fans may recognize the name John Cassavetes. Maybe they remember him as Franco in "The Dirty Dozen." Or as Mia Farrow's husband in "Rosemary's Baby." True movie fans know John Cassavetes better as a film director, a pioneer of what is known as cinema verite'. His son, Nick, has also traveled the same route of actor ("Face/Off") to director. And with "Alpha Dog," he proves that the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree.

Based on the true story of drug dealer Jesse James Hollywood (yes, that was his real name) who, at age 20, became one of the youngest people ever on the FBI's 10 most wanted list, "Alpha Dog" is a tale told from many sides. Using flashbacks and flash forwards, director Cassavetes, working from his own script, opens the film with a television interview with reputed bad guy Sonny Truelove (Willis), explaining that he has no idea where his son, Johnny (Hirsch), could be. Johnny is wanted by the authorities for kidnapping and then killing the 15 year old brother of a drug customer that owed him $1200. What we learn in the subsequent story is that the young man spent two days with his captors, partying with friends and strangers alike.. His circumstances are so well known that he is often referred to as "Stolen Boy." However, as time goes by Johnny, who's not as tough as he wants others to think, begins having second thoughts about releasing the boy. His decisions are what drive the film to it's very powerful climax.

Credit Cassavetes with casting the film with a very talented group of young actors. As Johnny, Hirsh is smooth around others, less certain when alone. Hirsch does a fine job of conveying this duality. Ben Foster chews the scenery as the tattooed drug buyer whose debt is the cause of all the commotion. Though sincere in his performance, some of his scenes are a little over the top, including one where he clears a party with a martial arts display that looks like it came from a Jackie Chan film. I was only familiar with Foster from his role as Angel in the last "X-men" film and was quite impressed with his emoting though, as mentioned, he could have dialed it back a notch or two. The two standout performances belong to Timberlake and Anton Yelchin. Timberlake, who plays Johnny's "boy," assigned to watch over 15 year old Zack (Yelchin), has a very natural screen presence. It looks like he not only had all the musical talent in *NSYNC but the acting chops as well. Yelchin is also very good as the young boy who willingly stays with his "captors." Even though he knows why he's been kidnapped, Zack goes with the flow of the situation. Sharon Stone is overly wrought as Zack's mother and it's always a pleasure to see 80 year old Harry Dean Stanton on screen.

Told in an almost documentary style (a trademark of his late father), Cassavetes has crafted a film that will hold your interest until the end.

On a scale of zero to four stars I give "Alpha Dog"  Three stars

This week's movie review of "Alpha Dog" is ©2007 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2007, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.