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Alpha Dog: Hollywood's Idea of 'Real Kids'

Published January 12, 2007 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Images property of Universal.
International Alpha Dog Poster Alpha Dog
Whenever Hollywood makes a movie about "real kids," it's dubious because Hollywood is the opposite of reality. That's why I love it. But sometimes they get the picture and I think Alpha Dog is a case where Hollywood can send a message without forsaking all entertainment value.

Movie Review: Alpha Dog


Based on the Jesse James Hollywood case, with the name cleverly changed to Johnny Trueblood (Emile Hirsch), Alpha Dog tells the story of privileged kids getting in trouble. Johnny and his gang decide to kidnap the brother of a kid who owes them drug money (Ben Foster). The hostage situation escalates with the kid bonding with the guys until things get tragically out of hand.

Kids will surely relate to all the vulgar tough talk. I hear kids whenever I need to go out in the real world and buy something, and they don't seem to have much of a vocabulary. The bloody rap videos may be a bit heavy handed, but the point is they're obsessed with a world of time wasting and mind altering. They're all teens but nobody's in school.

So the kids play gangster. They deal drugs and run a mini-empire, threatening any rivals who come their way. They have slutty babes all around them and feel free to pull a gatt if bravado alone won't get the job done. It's really exactly like Scarface or Goodfellas when they resort to violence.

As such, there is a thrilling crime story. Every step of the crime has higher consequences. Everyone has a backup plan, a way to make things okay, but nobody steps into action.

It's also a parable because it is kids. They shouldn't be into this. But that's reality. The point about parents not doing their jobs is as subtle as the aforementioned rap videos. It's quite the coincidence when a negligent parent picks the one night her daughter needs her to step in for an anniversary drug orgy. But again, it's a movie and it's about all the extreme circumstances conspiring together.



The actors do a convincing job of playing idiots. They screech when they don't have the capacity for rational discussion and swear because they don't have any actual power. And I know actors like Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Amanda Seyfried are thoughtful, so it is a performance. But it's definitely not like Dirty where Hollywood pretty boys are so unconvincing as street thugs.

I actually found myself feeling a little jealous of all the sexuality around them. I had needs that were not being fulfilled at that age, but I don't want all the drugs required to get it. I don't like feeling altered. Maybe it's wrong to enjoy teen sensuality (although all the actors are legal), but that's also the point. The film will punish us for indulging with the characters.

There are some anachronisms, like Xbox wasn't out in 1999, and maybe they were rich enough for plasma TVs at that time, but I doubt even rich suburban folks were on the cutting edge of HDTV. Those don't take you out of the movie. It's just for me to show how up on technology I am.

Alpha Dog shouldn't be as controversial as it will be. It's a story of something that does happen. It's not blowing it out of proportion. It affects a very small community, but it's enough to say the potential is there in every community. If people were more aware of it, it would be just another crime movie but I see oblivious people all around me, so I think it's a little more important than that.


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Fred Topel
Sources: Images property of Universal.
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