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Film / Alpha Dog

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"You wanna know what this is all about? You can say it's about drugs or guns or disaffected youth, or whatever you like. But this whole thing is about parenting. It's about taking care of your children. You take care of yours, I take care of mine."
Sonny Truelove

Alpha Dog is a 2006 crime drama based on the true story of low-level drug dealer Jesse James Hollywood and his involvement in the kidnapping/murder of Nicholas Markowitz in 2000.

It stars Emile Hirsch as Johnny Truelove, an impulsive and cocky Psychopathic Man Child marijuana dealer living in the late '90s Southern California. Johnny, alongside best bud Frankie Ballenbacher (Justin Timberlake), suckup Elvis Schmidt (Shawn Hatosy), and a host of other friends and business associates, spends his day-to-day life partying, getting high, and generally living the hip-hop thug life he idealizes from music, movies, and video games, much to the dismay of Johnny's father, Sonny (Bruce Willis). Where Johnny goes, the money, the friends, and the girls follow.

But when a drug deal goes awry, a friendly meeting in Johnny's house between him and Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) turns into a violent dispute. Jake owes Johnny $1,200, but Jake won't pay. In their eagerness to get revenge on Jake, Johnny and his friends kidnap his 15-year-old brother Zack (Anton Yelchin).


Unfortunately, if there's one thing Johnny really does poorly, it's long-term planning. We see a three-day account of the events that follow as Johnny and Frankie desperately attempt to find a way to resolve the situation peacefully. As it stands, all of them are looking at life in prison. But no one knows what to do with the kid, who seems oblivious to the seriousness of the situation in which he now finds himself.

As their lives crumble, Johnny and Frankie realize that every choice has a consequence...


This film provides examples of:

  • Adorkable: Zack. It doesn't hurt that he's such a contrast to the rest of the tough, tattooed guys in the movie either.
  • Affably Evil: With the exception of Johnny, all of the gangsters. This goes a long way to explaining why Zack doesn't want to leave.
  • Anachronism Stew: An Xbox was shown even though the console wasn't widely available until 2001, and the film (based on a crime that occurred in August 2000) takes place in late 1999.
  • Antagonist Title: The title refers to the kidnapping's ringleader Johnny Truelove, or rather what he imagines himself to be.
  • Badass Boast: Jake gives Johnny a phone conversation he won't soon forget.
  • Berserk Button: Making fun of Johnny's height is a very good way to drastically reduce your life expectancy.
  • Boisterous Weakling: Johnny acts like and thinks he's a tough guy but is rather hopeless in a fight with no one to back him up. Early in the film, he tries to kill Jake, only for Jake to immediately gain the upper hand and nearly drown Johnny in his own swimming pool.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Jake Mazursky is a Jew, but he and his girlfriend appear to be neo-Nazis, with several white supremacy tattoos on their bodies and a Hitler poster decorating his kitchen. Played for laughs more than anything, with her doing a Nazi salute while wearing a Modesty Bedsheet when his (equally Jewish) brother Zack pays them a visit.
  • Butt-Monkey: Elvis, from most of Johnny’s group. In one scene, they resort to throwing homophobic insults to make fun of his kiss-ass attitudes towards Johnny.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Averted. Zack's Tae Kwon Do skills are displayed in a throwaway scene yet they have no practical application as Zack is led to his death.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: This film has one of the highest uses of the word "Fuck" at a staggering 367, or 3.11 uses per minute.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Jake and Johnny. And then Jake beats the shit out of an entire party's worth of people.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: An extreme aversion. Right from the start of the film, it's very clear that Johnny and his gang are a bunch of loser assholes that only an idiot would want to emulate, though Zack himself admires them and grows to enjoy his "kidnapping."
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: As mentioned in Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster! above, the film goes out of its way to show how foolish it is to emulate the lifestyle of a drug-dealing street gangster.
  • Dirty Coward: Elvis gets more confident when given the order to kill Zack, but when the murder is discovered he starts panicking and begging for help.
  • Downer Ending: Zack is killed at the end of his kidnapping and Johnny's gang completely falls apart as a result.
  • Do You Want to Copulate?: Holed up in a motel room with nothing else to do, Angela casually asks Johnny if he wants to have sex.
  • Drugs Are Bad: This movie did a pretty good job of hammering the point home.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Most of the wannabe criminals in Truelove's crew have girlfriends or family members they care about. Tiko is even arrested watching television with his whole family when the police break down the door, and Truelove is celebrating his girlfriend's birthday during Zack's murder.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Frankie, Elvis, and Keith genuinely like Zack and are horrified at Johnny's utter heartlessness (not that it stops them from doing the deed anyway).
  • Face Death with Dignity: Averted. Zack breaks down crying and desperately pleads and begs as they put the tape over his mouth all while Frankie and Keith are in tears.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Johnny likes to make himself out to be a tough resourceful leader. But in reality, he is cowardly, short-tempered, and deeply stupid, rarely thinking of the consequences of his actions.
  • Freudian Excuse: The film shows the parents being every bit as indulgent and hedonistic as their children or at the very least unconcerned about the lifestyle they embrace. Sonny, for instance, pretty much raised Johnny to be a dealer and yet takes no responsibility for his part in the crimes committed. Zack's parents, in contrast, are overprotective and rule every part of his life, pushing him towards the other end. In fact, there don't seem to be any good parental figures.
  • Hate Sink: Johnny is a rare example of the main character being a Hate Sink, being the most unlikable of the main characters by far.
  • Hypocritical Humor: The guys don't like gangsta rappers and joke when seeing a rap video, "The only thing these guys are 'shooting' is music videos," even though they act exactly like them.
  • Idiot Ball: Arguably the entire point of the movie. These guys, especially Johnny, come up with a pretty stupid idea and execute it in perhaps the dumbest way imaginable. To say "they brought this on themselves" hardly begins to cover it.
  • Jerkass: Where to start? Johnny Truelove, while not an entirely bad guy, is thoroughly unlikeable.
  • Karma Houdini: Subverted. Johnny looks like he has escaped capture for his crimes until an epilogue informs us that he was captured and faces the death penalty if found guilty (See Ripped from the Headlines below.)
  • Knight Templar Big Brother: When Jake learns that Johnny has kidnapped his little brother to get back at Jake, he promises his estranged stepmom that he will do anything to get Zack back. Jake immediately goes on a rampage, crashes a local house party held by some of Truelove's friends by beating up half the people in the room and when Truelove calls him up, Jake threatens Truelove with enacting brutal and painful vengeance unless he releases Zack. Subverted, however, as it doesn't help Zack's return at all and prompts Truelove to relocate with his victim.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: If you can't get it up with Olivia Wilde, you are far more stressed out than you'd like to admit.
  • Mood Whiplash: Zack is having the time of his life up until it comes time for Johnny and Frankie to do something about him...
  • My Beloved Smother: Part of the reason Zack doesn't take the obvious opportunities for escape is the freedom he feels at finally being away from his overprotective mother.
  • Naked First Impression: As Ben lets in his little brother Zack inside his apartment, Ben's girlfriend walks up to them wearing nothing except for a pillow.
  • Naked on Arrival: Ben's girlfriend is introduced in the movie while the two of them are having sex until they are interrupted by Zack showing up outside of their apartment. This leads to the Naked First Impression as mentioned above.
  • Nice Guy: Zack, despite embracing the lifestyle, cares very much for his friends and is more than willing to accept blame for other people's mistakes. Frankie is something of an example as his behavior seems mostly influenced by those around him. He is a dick around Johnny but much nicer around others.
  • One-Man Army: As screwed up as Jake Mazursky's life is, he's a very brutal fighter. As soon as he finds out his brother has been kidnapped by Johnny Truelove, he bursts into a house party regularly frequented by Truelove, and when the party-goers get hostile at his confrontational tone, he beats up half the room.
  • Only Sane Woman: When Susan learns that Zack has been kidnapped, she immediately begins panicking and trying to make everyone understand how serious it is. Everyone else, including Zack, look at her like she's crazy, and go on hanging out like nothing's happened.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: Johnny Truelove is an impulsive, shortsighted, criminally dumb wannabe gangster trying to project a "tough guy" image. He kidnaps Zack on a whim, all the while threatening people wherever he goes and doesn't realize how many witnesses he creates because of his own poor planning. He doesn't even keep tabs on the murder he orders while going out with his girlfriend and having fun, and rejects the option his father offers to release Zack and spend minimal jail time even though he has no other plan himself. He remains elusive for so long only because of blind luck.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: And an extra scene was filmed and added to the end when Jesse James Hollywood (the real-life criminal in which the character of Johnny Truelove is based on) was arrested in real life.
  • Sarcastic Title: Johnny Truelove would very much like to be top dog, but he is shown to be an idiot wannabe gangster and Dirty Coward whose spur-of-the-moment kidnapping and later murder of Zack Mazursky was an overreach that puts him and his entire crew in jail.
  • Skinny Dipping: Alma (Amber Heard) and Julie (Amanda Seyfried) do this in a swimming pool, and encourage Zack to join them.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Johnny Truelove. He slings some weed around and suddenly he thinks he's the king.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Zack's response is a combination of this and not taking the situation seriously. He's beaten up, kidnapped, tied up and gagged. And yet he shows absolutely no ill will towards his captors. He ends up having a great time with them, and freely offers to claim he ran away to keep them from getting in trouble. This is based on reports that the real Nicholas Markowitz was often seen in public with the people who kidnapped him, and apparently made no real effort to escape.
  • Tattooed Crook: Almost everyone sports a lot of ink, but Frankie and Jake really stand out.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Pretty much every young person is at best an indifferent slacker and at worst a violent sociopath. Not that the adults are any better, mind you.
  • Too Dumb to Live: At least as depicted in this movie, Zack taking his own kidnapping so lightly no doubt contributed to his death. It's seemingly justified because he is, after all, still a kid who sees the lifestyle of Truelove's friends as exciting, not understanding the real gravity of the situation.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Things quickly begin to spiral out of control and an impulsive kidnapping leads to a shocking conclusion.
  • Two-Person Pool Party: A three-person pool party, actually. Zack makes out with Julie and Alma in a pool they break into.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Oh God, yes it was...
  • Villain Protagonist: Johhny and his friends are the main characters, as well as drug dealing screw-ups who kidnap a teenage boy. Eventually, they kill him.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Johnny has an offscreen one at the Mexican border and Elvis has one when he realizes how much shit he is in.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The legal consequences to the individual members of Truelove/Hollywood's crew as a result of the kidnapping and murder of Zack Mazursky/Nick Markowitz is shown at the end. Truelove himself was finally apprehended after eluding the authorities for five years.
  • Would Hit a Girl: During the fight at the house party, Jake decks a girl who was charging at him straight in the face, making her fall to the floor.


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