From the start Alpha Dog creates a morose tone. For the entire opening credits we’re shown home movies of Zack Mazursky (whether they were made for the film or its actual footage, I don’t know) with a very slow and moving rendition of “Over the Rainbow.” You’re immediately put into a mellow mood which is sadly thrown aside when we’re introduced to our characters of the film. While we see Sonny Truelove (Bruce Willis) first, immediately following is the introduction of Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) and his gang. This scene completely throws the mood out the window as soon as the gang opens their mouths and a torrent of cursing flows out.
At only a half hour into the movie I was ready to give up on it. It was slow moving and the L.A. white gang rhetoric and music was beginning to grate on my nerves. However, once the story picks up, all of the directing, acting and writing becomes much tighter and it immediately makes for a much better film. If you feel you’re about to give up on it, ride it out—after all, you went to the trouble of renting/buying the film, you might as well finish what you started. If you do, you’ll likely not be disappointed with the final result.
As the story goes, Jake Mazurksy, owes Johnny Truelove money. When he can’t pay, Truelove and Mazursky get in a brawl and Mazursky threatens to come back and harm Truelove. Mazursky comes back in the middle of the night with a group of guys and together they trash Johnny’s house, take his TV and Mazursky takes a dump on the carpet (because, you know, that’s what you do to someone you hate). Truelove witnesses all of this but doesn’t confront the group in his house, despite being armed. This event sets off the chain of events that takes Truelove’s crew to Mazursky’s apartment. When they arrive and he’s not home, they leave and on the way back to Johnny’s house, they see Zack Mazursky (Anton Yelchin), Jake’s brother, walking alongside the road (he had just run away from his parents after discovering a bong in his jacket). Seeing this as an opportunity to get payback, they kidnap Zack and take him away.
The most heart wrenching part of the story is not even the parents of Zack losing a son in the end, but Zack and Frankie’s (Justin Timerblake) relationship. The two bond quickly in the film and the final death scene with Zack, Frankie and Elvis is extremely gut wrenching. Both Yelchin and Timberlake act their hearts out in this scene and it’s just flat out painful to watch. Combined with their acting, the scene is intensely dark which just adds to the mood of it. It is easily the most powerful sequence in the film and Timberlake greatly impressed me with the emotion he put into the character of Frankie, who, along with Zack, are easily the two most well-sculpted and flushed out characters of the film, despite not being the “key players.”
As I stated before, the movie is really quite mediocre in the first act. Once the plot gets moving along it gets much better, but I feel that the character introductions could have been cut down some, especially because Truelove’s gang disappears until the later half of the movie, so we never even see them until the wrap up at the end of the film. A bit of trimming here and there would’ve made the film a much tighter experience—and a bit shorter, as it’s near two-hour run time is a bit much.
Overall the film is one worth watching, even if the first act is slow. Once it picks up and the movie begins labeling the “witnesses” that see Zack, it really feels more like a stronger movie and one that doesn’t feel like it was shot by an amateur director. It is also saddening to see this and know that this was a true event that happened. While the drama, I’m sure, is played out more in this rendition, the relationship between Frankie and Zack is not one that you’ll forget immediately after leaving shutting the movie off—if anything, it’s the one thing people will remember the movie for.
Alpha Dog comes packaged in a single disc amaray case with no disc art (what’s up with the text-only DVDs lately, Universal?) and an insert advertising HD-DVD. Menus are bland and rather boring to look at, but are easy to navigate.
Video and audio on the release is strong. Video remains clean and clear throughout and the nighttime areas, especially when Zack is murdered, are so insanely dark you can hardly tell what’s going in, which I assume is the intent. Still, the transfer is good and the 5.1 track really kicks in at times, although rear channels are rather quiet until the party scenes.
In terms of special features, this disc doesn’t pack too much. A few trailers in the beginning and two special features are all that are on this disc. The first special feature is a behind-the-scenes featurette that has cast and crew discussions on the film and its events. We hear from most of the major players of the film, but with a run time of only ten minutes, it’s the only behind-the-scenes information we get on it. If you were remotely interested in hearing more behind the events that inspired this movie, you’re forced to turn to the internet, as this DVD certainly doesn’t have anything on it. Still, the featurette is entertaining for what little we do learn of the films production and to hear Sharon Stone attempt to sound smart (“I actually hadn’t been familiar with the story until I read the script and I became familiar with the story.”)
The other featurette is the Witness Timeline, which basically just shows you what you already saw in the movie, except in simplified form. Clicking on the clips takes you to the areas of the film where the suspects are.
This is one film that could greatly benefit from a commentary track. The film left me with some unanswered questions that I’m sure would’ve been mentioned on the commentary (what bits were embellished, what the Mazursky family thought of it and if those were indeed original home movies in the beginning). It’s a shame there’s no commentary, as I can’t see this getting a double dip release anytime soon—it’s a little too low profile of a release.
Still, even in the thin features department, the disc is worth it for the film alone. Because of the weak opening and sparse special features, I can only give this a Recommended. The films worth seeing for the second and third acts, but I don’t know if it’s worth owning—it’s definitely worth a rental, at least.
Alpha Dog arrives on DVD May 1st.