A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie is a focuses on older teens and twentysomethings who do and deal drugs (some encouraged by parents who also smoke pot), have sex, drink, smoke, lie, and cheat. There is a lot of violence, including shootings, fights, bloody injuries, a nasty broken arm (it cracks loudly), kicks, a boy knocking girls to the ground, a "crew" destroying an enemy's home, and a murder in which the duct-taped victim tearfully begs to be spared. Sex scenes (in bed and in a pool) show naked bottoms and breasts (one father invites his son to join him and the two women he's with). Language includes hundreds of "f--k"s, plus other familiar obscenities and racist, sexist, and homophobic terms.
What's the story?
Based on the story of real-life murder suspect Jesse James Hollywood, ALPHA DOG focuses on a drug dealer and bully named Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch), detailing the day-by-day chronology of his gang's 2000 kidnapping and eventual murder of 15-year-old Zack (Anton Yelchin). Justin Timberlake co-stars as one of Johnny's crew members.
Is it any good?
Director Nick Cassavetes' film is part formal experimentation, part big-screen America's Most Wanted, part showcase for talented young performers, and part lament for "today's youth." It begins with Eva Cassidy's sorrowful cover version of "Over the Rainbow," as home movie-style images show children laughing and playing with their families and celebrating holidays. When one youngster points a toy gun at the camera, you get a sense of the film's dire trajectory.
As energetic and sensational as it is, Alpha Dog gives short shrift to key themes having to do with class differences and gendered behaviors. As much as these boys want to show off their vaunted hyper-masculinity (they lift weights, fight repeatedly, pull out guns, and talk about sex a lot), they're unable to have conversations (they are, however, very adept at flinging obscenities in efforts to avoid self-examination). And the movie doesn't dig much deeper than the boys in its representation of the persistent problem of violent, careless kids who feel lost, their childhoods "stolen."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the idea of bad parenting as a theme of the movie. How are the parents in the movie ineffective? How does the younger characters' behavior (violence, sex, drug use) reflect what they see on television and in their own homes? Do they have any other options? Do those options change after the kidnapping? How would you describe the characters' goals? How do the girls and young women respond differently (compare, for instance, Julie and Susan)? Do you think starring in a movie like this will affect Justin Timberlake's reputation/popularity? Why do you think he decided to take the part?
- In theaters: January 11, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: May 1, 2007
- Cast: Bruce Willis, Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake
- Director: Nick Cassavetes
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: pervasive drug use and language, strong violence, sexuality and nudity.
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