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Movie Review

Alpha Dog

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Director: Nick Cassavetes

Starring: Emilie Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Anton Yelchin, Ben Foster, Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, Shawn Hatosy, Heather Wahlquist, Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Marquette and Harry Dean Stanton.

Duration: 118 minutes

Certificate 18

1 of 1 Two strong performances
Two strong performances

No statistics have ever been compiled on the amount of people admitted to hospital with rib injuries on reading that Robbie Williams had been linked to the role of James Bond.

Pop stars on screen often lend more weight to the theory that most people are good at just one thing than they do to the actual movie, and the news that Justin Timberlake was going to appear in the crime drama 'Alpha Dog' undoubtedly gave rise to some chuckles. After all, the singer's first major film, 'Edison', went straight to DVD with the fanfare normally associated with the changing of a light bulb.

But in this case Timberlake has the last laugh because he shows cinema audiences that he can act and his performance helps 'Alpha Dog' to be more pedigree than mutt.

Based on a famous case in California in 2000, 'Alpha Dog' takes us into the rich, vacuous and hedonistic existences of teens and early twentysomethings in the San Gabriel Valley.

Despite his young age, Johnny Truelove (Hirsch) has already built up a sizeable marijuana empire, mentored by his father (Willis) and surrounded by a gang of loyal layabouts.

Truelove and his crew spend their lives getting high, aping what they've seen in rap videos and movies ('Scarface' posters feature, of course) and driving from one party to another.

But Truelove and his pals are unable to realise that the gangster life isn't a game, and when a debt dispute with former friend Jake Mazursky (Foster) violently escalates Truelove has to show he's the man.

In a bid to get Mazursky to pay back the money he owes him Truelove, his lieutenant Frankie (Timberlake) and a few other cronies take Mazursky's 15-year-old brother Zack (Melchin) off the street and say they're going to hold him until his elder sibling pays up.

Truelove and co don't regard what they've done as anything serious and induct the boy into their world, bringing him to parties, introducing him to girls and getting him high. And Zack is happy to go along - feeling that he's having a wild couple of days away from his parents.

But once it dawns on Truelove that he's facing child kidnapping charges and life in prison, the good times take a very sinister turn.

Cassavetes has assembled a great young ensemble cast for 'Alpha Dog' and their performances give the film an energy and intensity that it's easy to get sucked into.

With the majority of events in the film taking place over a three-day period, Cassavetes' narrative, complete with onscreen location and time credits, brings to mind the dramatic reconstructions you see on true crime TV shows. It's an approach that makes 'Alpha Dog' even more compelling - as do the performances of Timberlake and co-star Yelchin.

Cassavetes paints a vivid and despairing picture here of those youths without a leash, who are lavished with a lifestyle but not love. The film shows both sides of the parenting dilemma: what happens when you hold too tight and what happens when you let go too easy. Here many of the characters have everything that they could possibly want, but very little of what they need. Thus, it's very hard to form a connection with them.

The two exceptions are Timberlake and Yelchin who make the film as the kidnapper and his willing hostage. Yelchin brings a lot of depth to his too-trusting character, while Timberlake, heavily tattooed and spouting endless street jive, gives a fine performance as the charismatic wannabe homeboy whose willingness to go along with things becomes more chilling as the story progresses. The fact that this film is based on real events is the scariest thing of all.

Even if you can't stand Timberlake's records, chances are if you see this you won't have a problem with seeing him in another film. And there'll be no need for a trip to A&E.

Harry Guerin

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