Alpha Dog Nick Cassavetes

I was expecting absolutely nothing from this, which after all is a Nick Cassavetes movie opening in January. But it managed to put to shame most of the prestige jobs that will no doubt clog the Oscars this year. Even The Departed was no match for its portrait of macho intimidation and youthful stupidity.

Emile Hirsch assays the role of Johnny Truelove, a third generation drug-dealer in a family that includes Bruce Willis and Harry Dean Stanton. His crew is bunch of alpha male lunkheads who bully the weaker members and spout hollow boy-man bravado. So of course they think nothing of it when Truelove brings home Zack (Anton Yelchin), who’s being used as collateral for his brother’s financial misdeeds, and of course nobody thinks Truelove’s serious when he suggests that they off the boy. Zack doesn’t even notice, as they treat him better than he’s treated at home. What follows is a gripping, sometimes sad and frequently hilarious take on people who have no idea of the enormity of their actions, and who leave a trail of evidence when their "crime on a whim” spirals into disaster.

Cassavetes’ script, which is taken from an actual crime that happened in the waning days of the last century, is loaded with sparkling dialogue you believe people would actually say, and his gaggle of young actors (Justin Timberlake, Shawn Hatosy and Dominique Swain among them) take this one-time chance at non-teen-fluff and really show us what they’ve got.

What this means is that Alpha Dog is the River’s Edge of the new millennium; it even comes up, in Ben Foster’s Jewish skinhead, with a replacement for Crispin Glover. Critics aren’t going to support this thing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

(Universal)