Anton Yelchin has been a favorite actor of mine since I first saw Green Room (2015). Since his untimely passing in 2016, I’ve been attempting to watch all of his filmography. I started Alpha Dog (2006) just a few days after his death while I was waiting for a flight back from Boston, but I quickly realized it wasn’t a film you would want to have someone catch moments of over your shoulder. I finally made it back to this film almost two years later and gave it a watch. While I think there are many good performances in this film, and while I find the true crime story compelling, it’s ultimately not one I’d see revisiting too often.
Alpha Dog showcases Timberlake and Yelchin in this true crime story
Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) owes Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) money, and in an attempt to gain leverage, Johnny kidnaps Jake’s younger brother, Zack Mazursky (Anton Yelchin). Johnny assigns his friend, Frankie Ballenbacher (Justin Timberlake), to hang out with Zack while they wait on Jake’s reaction. Frankie and Zack end up partying and becoming close, while things with Jake and Johnny spin out of control.
Yelchin and Timberlake are definitely the best parts of this film. Their chemistry is great, and Timberlake gives one of his best performances to date – especially late in the film. He manages to capture the truly conflicted nature of the character, and bring a believable performance through some tough scenes. Yelchin is as great as he usually is. There is just a natural charm about him that his character also appears to possess. Everyone seems to love him, and that’s what makes this situation all the tougher later in the film.
Unfortunately, Ben Foster’s performance is way too big. He’s hard to take seriously or even threatening, which he’s supposed to be at many points in this film. The excuse could be that he’s on drugs, but that’s not how the performance comes across. Hirsch, on the other hand, is far too subdued. He seems asleep through a lot of his scenes, or as if he is trying too hard to sell himself as a badass. The story between these two guys should take on more significance…but it really feels like it fizzles out.
However, the story is based on a real event, and the names of the characters were just changed. It’s a sad story in many respects, but a shocking and compelling one. Alpha Dog does enough to make it worth the time it takes to watch it, but it isn’t really one that you’ve got to see again and again. The film earns the Decent Watch rating.