Alpha Dog (2006)

(In French, On DVD, September 2017) If there is a problem with true-life crime movies, it’s that they’re inevitably constrained by the real events, and any deviations from the truth, even to heighten drama, is seen as a betrayal. For filmmakers, the balance is tricky—too much drama and you may disappoint viewers, not enough and you risk boring them. As it stands, Alpha Dog stands closer to boredom even despite changing quite a few things about the real events that inspired it. It really doesn’t help that it chooses to tell itself through grainy naturalistic cinematography, bathing everything in grime and lowlight artifacts. The events described are depressing in their unravelling, as a fake kidnapping evolves into a real murder in a group of disaffected teenagers constantly up to no good. Their coterie of girlfriends doesn’t help, nor the dog-eat-dog aggression of their clique. Alpha Dog may be realistic, and that makes it even more dispiriting. While handled well, it does suffer from a far too long running time and a conclusion that spirals into nothingness. Addressing both of those issues, however, would have meant even greater deviations from reality, so who knows if these choices were the correct ones? Despite the film’s dullness, there is still some interest in seeing the young actors assembled here—many of them would go on to much better things over the following decade. Justin Timberlake is remarkable as a supporting player, while Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Anton Yelchin (among many others) also show up in main roles, with Dominique Swain, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried share inglorious small roles as the girlfriends. Alpha Dog may not be an easy film to like, but it does have its high points.

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