09 January 2007

Alpha Dog Review

“I'm a educated fool, with money on my mind
Got my ten in my hand and a gleam in my eye
I'm a loced-out gangsta, set-trippin banger
And my homies is down, so don't arouse my anger, fool

Death ain't nothing but a heart beat away
I'm livin life do-or-die ah, what can I say?
I'm twenty-three now, but will I live to see twenty-fo'?
The way things are goin I don't know”

Coolio, Gangsta’s Paradise

By watching the trailers and reading the blurbs, one would think that Alpha Dog is a modern day treatment of the famous Leopold and Lobe case. With tag lines like “A crime with this many witnesses, should never have gone this far”, one would think a certain connection would not be far off the mark. Well that’s as far as the connection goes. While Leopold and Lobe are of genius stature, the characters in Alpha Dog would have to make frequent trips to the brain bank to measure up.

Alpha Dog is a social commentary that is loosely based on events of six days in August 2000 that lead to the death of Nicholas Markowitz. The movie plot, and real life event, centers on mid-level drug dealers in Southern California trying to settle a $1200 debt with Markowitz’s older brother. While attempting to settle the tab with the elder Markowitz, our bumbling ganstas see Nicholas and kidnap him as a marker for the debt. Nicholas spends a few days partying with his new buddies eventually getting knocked in the head. Evidently kidnappers think the score of witnesses at their parties might link them with Markowitz.

The film’s underlying theme is that the glamorization of rap videos, desensitization of violence through video games has lead all of these youth down a primrose path. Every time I noticed a TV in the film, there was a rap video or video game on screen.While filmmaker and writer Nick Cassavetes places time stamps on the film and gives it a documentary back drop, the film makes no serious attempt to link back to real life events. Changing the names and certain events from real life into a Hollywood script takes a huge hit on the film’s underlying message. Like the raps and video games, the script turns into another dose of Hollywood fantasy.

Anachronism alert!!. The film is set in 1999. In once scene Justin Timberlake is playing a video game on an Xbox. Xboxes were not released in North American until 15 Nov 2001. If that doesn’t get me into the geek hall of fame, nothing will.

What is tragic about the real life and movie events is that the weak spirited do fall prey to the over stimuli of certain lifestyles. Whatever that particular lifestyle is, there will always be those that are seduced to an extreme level. There will always be those that follow like lemmings behind a stronger personality. The film’s real message should have been arm your children against the Svengalis out there. Men and women in the big bad world that possess this level of magnetism are infinitely more dangerous than locking someone up with an Xbox and an MP3 player chocked full of Time Life’s Greatest Thug Hits of all time.

The cast does portray all these archetypes to a key. Emil Hirsh portrays the group’s leader and simply does so by his ability to direct his minions and make decisions. Shawn Hatosy portrays Hirsh’s adoring lackey like he had spent time on an 18th Century British Man-of War. Even Justin Timberlake gets his inner Dr. Phillish badass on the big screen. Together with the mobbed up Bruce Willis and Harry Dean Stanton (who is always my choice for the washed up drunk role), a few more minor sycophants and hotties at parties, the wide eyed Anton Yelchin make the expected Hollywood roles work.

It’s worth a look if you’re up for Hollywood calling the kettle black.


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