DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


Nick Cassavetes
Justin Timberlake, Sharon Stone, Bruce Willis, Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, Emile Hirsch, Anton Yelchin
Writing Credits:
Nick Cassavetes

How did it ever go so far?

Inspired by true events, Alpha Dog is a powerful and gripping film that takes you deep into the sordid world of drugs, greed, power and privilege where living without consequences finally takes its toll. When a group of suburban teens imitating the "thug life" end up committing an impulsive crime, circumstances spiral out of control toward a shocking conclusion in this gritty and uncompromising film.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$7.411 million on 1289 screens.
Domestic Gross
$15.229 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 118 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 5/1/2007

• “A Cautionary Tale: The Making of Alpha Dog” Featurette
• “Witness Timeline” Featurette
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Alpha Dog (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 27, 2007)

Based on a true story, 2007’s Alpha Dog presents a hard-hitting portrait of young folks gone wrong. Set in Claremont, California toward the end of 1999, Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) runs a minor drug dealing operation – supplied by his dad Sonny (Bruce Willis). When a fellow scumbag from a privileged background named Jake Mazurzky (Ben Foster) can’t repay his debt to Johnny, they come to blows. This slowly starts a war between the two, with stakes that grow steeper and steeper.

The rivalry reaches a peak when Johnny sees Jake’s 15-year-old half-brother Zack (Anton Yelchin) on the street. Johnny and his crew impulsively decide to abduct Zack, though they don’t quite know where to go from there. The rest of the movie follows the repercussions of this choice.

Although one could easily view Dog as just another crime caper flick, it possesses a subtext that makes it much more than that. It paints a rich portrait of spoiled suburban kids and their wasted lives. More than a few films have confronted that topic, but not many took it on with the finesse and subtlety of Dog.

I admit that “finesse and subtlety” aren’t words that many might associate with the crass, crude world of Dog. Almost every scene features sex, drugs, violence and/or profanity. This isn’t a flick for a light viewing with grandma.

However, I view Dog as an understated flick because it never beats us over the head with its viewpoint. Clearly it intends to present the lives of bored, off-track suburbans, with an undercurrent that criticizes the laid-back “best friend” school of parenting. The flick demonstrates the repercussions that follow when adults give their kids too much leeway and don’t do their jobs.

I appreciate that side of things, and I like Dog even more because it doesn’t shove our faces in these issues. They’re there in the story but they’re not telegraphed or forced on us. The movie neither sugarcoats matters nor makes them pat and easy. It’s a complex portrait of its subjects that draws us into the events and characters.

Writer/director Nick Cassavetes doesn’t create a flawless piece. Too many participants come and go in a herky-jerky manner that causes narrative problems. However, he gets a lot more right than wrong, and the underlying heart and emotion of the piece become his biggest strengths. He doesn’t subject us to reams of exposition. What happened to Jake’s real mother? What backstories come with the others? We don’t know, and we don’t really care. Those elements are irrelevant, as we can connect the dots on our own. Cassavetes respects the viewers too much to force feed useless data on us.

A consistent roster of excellent performances helps. Many paid attention to the flick because Justin Timberlake plays Frankie, one of Johnny’s cohorts. Sure, the flick boasts other famous folks, but none with as much to prove as the singer-turned-actor. Timberlake proves very adept as the druggie kid with a good heart. He feels real and natural in the part, as Timberlake shows that he possesses great acting chops.

“Real and natural” are good terms to use for Alpha Dog as a package. A dynamic tale of suburban kids gone wrong, the movie works because of its depth and subtlety. Those bolster its power and allow it to become a strong piece of work.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B/ Bonus D+

Alpha Dog appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A mix of good and bad, the transfer seemed more erratic than expected.

The first third or so of the movie looked the worst. Those segments suffered from more than a smidgen of softness, partially due to some notable edge enhancement. Colors appeared moderately flat. Blacks were inky at times, and shadows tended to be heavy.

That last tendency continued through the rest of the movie, as low-light shots remained awfully dark. This issue created by far the biggest distraction and was the main problem with the image. Otherwise the transfer showed definite improvements. Sharpness became more concise, though I still saw some edge enhancement. Colors looked brighter and better developed, while blacks seemed tighter. No parts of the flick suffered from source flaws. The highs and lows left this as a “C+“ transfer.

While the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Alpha Dog was more consistent, it didn’t present any particular highs. The soundfield mostly stayed with general ambience. Elements popped up in the appropriate spots, and they blended together well. The surrounds added a good sense of environment as well. Nothing here stood out as especially memorable or impressive, but the pieces went together in a positive manner.

Audio quality also seemed good. Music was lively and dynamic, with concise highs and rich lows. Speech appeared crisp and warm, and I noticed no edginess or other issues. Effects also came across as clean and accurate. Overall, the mix satisfied.

Very few extras appear here. A featurette called A Cautionary Tale: The Making of Alpha Dog runs 11 minutes and 29 seconds. It presents a mix of movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We hear from writer/director Nick Cassavetes, executive producer Butch Kaplan, and actors Shawn Hatosy, Justin Timberlake, Sharon Stone, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin and Emile Hirsch. “Tale” looks at the movie’s story and themes, casting and performances, Cassavetes’ effect on the set and actor training.

While promotional in nature, “Tale” offers a bit more depth than usual. It deals with the movie’s subtext in a moderate way and gives us some insights dealing with the creative side of the production. Though it never becomes a particularly distinctive piece, it’s worth a look.

A Witness Timeline allows us to read statements by the witnesses who saw the movie’s kidnapping. We can also jump to the corresponding film scenes. This offers a few interesting notes but nothing special.

A few Previews open the disc. We find ads for Breach, Children of Men, Hot Fuzz, Smokin’ Aces, The Hitcher and HD-DVD. No trailer for Alpha Dog appears on the disc.

An uncommonly deep and affecting drama, Alpha Dog examines what happens when kids get caught up in lives without boundaries. It presents a rich tale that doesn’t suffer from the usual moralizing, and it works well due to its subtlety. The DVD offers good audio but comes with erratic visuals and only minor extras. I like the movie enough to recommend a rental, but this release disappoints as a DVD.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3125 Stars Number of Votes: 16
2 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main