Alpha Dog is a 2007 crime drama film written and directed by Nick Cassavetes, first screened at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2006, with a wide release the following year on January 12, 2007. The film is based on the true story of the kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz and related events in 2000. It portrays the involvement of Jesse James Hollywood, a young middle-class drug dealer in California. The film stars Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Shawn Hatosy, Ben Foster, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried, Anton Yelchin with Harry Dean Stanton, Sharon Stone and Bruce Willis.
Alpha Dog is based on events that took place in 2000 and characters are given fictional names. The film is set in November 1999. It tells the story of Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch), a young drug dealer in Claremont, California and his circle of friends, which includes Frankie Ballenbacher (Justin Timberlake), Tiko "TKO" Martinez (Fernando Vargas), and Elvis Schmidt (Shawn Hatosy). The film demonstrates internal gang dynamics and social context that contribute to the events leading to kidnapping and murder.
The film starts with all the main characters, suspects, the victim, suspect's family, victim family, etc, as little children, playing around, reminiscing their childhood, when everything was carefree. The end it shows Zack Mazursky.
The films opens with an interviewer talking to Sonny (Bruce Willis) about his son, Johnny. Sonny tells the story.
Johnny's father, Sonny Truelove, supplies his son with marijuana, from which Johnny makes a fortune dealing and selling. Johnny owns his own house where he holds meetings and parties. Another associate of the gang is Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), who owes Johnny a $1,200 drug debt. After a failed attempt at asking for the money from his parents, Olivia (Sharon Stone) and Butch (David Thornton) Mazursky, he goes over to Johnny's house where Johnny is having a party. A heated argument between the two results in a violent fight that Frankie and the gang break up, which also has Johnny pulling a gun on Jake. Jake tells Johnny that he'll never pay him the money. In retaliation, Johnny, his girlfriend, Angela, Sonny, and his godfather, Cosmo and his friends go to Jake's girlfriend, Wanda's job, where she is a waitress. Johnny writes on the receipt telling Wanda to deduct Jake's debt to pay for the bill. Jake retaliates by ratting out Johnny to the car insurance company, where Johnny was running a scam, reporting it stolen. Jake alerts the insurance company and Johnny loses his insurance, costing him $30,000. Johnny retaliates, by pretending to be Jake's parole officer and gets Jake fired from his job by telling his boss he's on drugs. Later that night, Jake and his gang break into Johnny's house, stealing his flat-screen TV, breaking his backyard window and defecating on the carpet, with Johnny there. Even though armed, he hides from Jake. The next day, Johnny, Frankie, and Tiko head to Jake's home but he is not there. On their way back, they stumble upon his brother, Zack Mazursky (Anton Yelchin) - who snuck out of his house to avoid an argument with his parents - and decide to kidnap him in broad daylight, throwing him into the van.
Wanting a break from his home life, Zack makes little effort to escape. During a street fiesta, Frankie offers him a chance to get away, which Zack declines, not wanting to cause any trouble for his brother. The two strike up an unlikely friendship. Zack stays at Frankie's house for the night and even helps him with his chores. Meanwhile, Olivia and Butch learn Jake owes money to "someone", and a furious Olivia forces Jake to go look for Zack. Jake enters a party looking for Johnny, after a heated argument with one of Johnny's friends for information, an enraged Jake gets into an intense fight with the party-goers, which results in him defeating them all in anger. The next morning, Zack meets some of Frankie's friends, including Keith Stratten (Chris Marquette), and strikes up a relationship with Julie (Amanda Seyfried), the youngest member of the group. They all learn of Zack's kidnapping, and Susan (Dominique Swain) is the only one actually concerned about it. Frankie grows nervous when Johnny hypothetically offers Frankie $2,500 to murder Zack and dispose of his body. Frankie furiously declines and Johnny claims it was a joke. Frankie suggests that they can "grease the kid" or offer Zack money for him to keep his mouth shut, and then sort the whole situation privately with Jake. Johnny reluctantly agrees and the night turns into a party at Frankie's house. Johnny speaks to Zack, taking Frankie's advice of "greasing the kid" and promises that the next day this will all be over.
The next day at Zack's home, Olivia and Butch do everything they can to find Zack. Johnny calls Jake with the intent of explaining the situation, but learns that Jake already suspects it was him who kidnapped Zack and screams that he'll kill Johnny. Johnny hangs up and calls his lawyer and explains the situation as a hypothetical scenario. When his lawyer tells him that Johnny is looking at life in prison for his actions if Zack rats them out, Johnny becomes increasingly anxious, and asks what should they do and the lawyer jokingly says dig a deep hole and he gets suspicious and Johnny hangs up. Meanwhile, Susan is still concerned about Zack still being missing, but Frankie tells her if she say anything Johnny could go to jail and they'll wind up dead. Susan thinks he's being paranoid, but Frankie tells her the offer Johnny made to him to kill Zack. Frankie tells her he's not going to do it and that Johnny is quick tempered. Susan gets over it when Johnny calls Frankie to tell him that Zack is going home. That night, while Frankie, Zack, and the gang are at a party at a hotel, Johnny approaches Elvis, who is in deep debt with Johnny, and offers to cancel the debt if he agrees to have Zack murdered. Elvis is skeptical at first, but agrees and they go to their friend Pick (Vincent Kartheiser) to borrow his mother's car. Johnny takes his girlfriend Angela (Olivia Wilde) out for her birthday. Back at the party, Zack loses his virginity when he has sex with Julie and her girlfriend, Alma (Amber Heard). Johnny calls Frankie, telling him to clear out the party and he's heading up there to take Zack home. It's Frankie, Zack & Keith. Elvis arrives at the hotel and explains to Frankie that Zack is not going home and was ordered by Johnny to have Zack killed. Frankie is enraged at Elvis, and angrily tells him he won't let him do it. Elvis instead takes Keith and they go to a remote location in the hills to dig a grave. When they get back to the hotel, Elvis tells a disturbed Frankie that they are all looking at life in prison if Zack goes home. Frankie sadly agrees and he, Elvis, and Keith trick Zack into thinking he's going home.
When Johnny brings Angela home, his godfather Cosmo (Harry Dean Stanton), Sonny, and his lawyer are waiting for him. Sonny questions Johnny on Zack's whereabouts. Johnny plays dumb, but when Sonny tells him there's Missing Person Reports about Zack on every street corner. They all try to convince Johnny to let Zack go and that Sonny will try to bribe Zack and his family. Johnny doesn't think that will work. The lawyer tells Johnny he's gonna be looking at some jail time. The lawyer guarantees that Johnny will do two years minimum sentence. Johnny refuses to go to jail and tells them he put a hit on Zack. Sonny & Cosmo tells Johnny to call off the hit on Zack Johnny is unwilling to do so. Meanwhile, Frankie, Elvis, Zack, and Keith arrive in the hills and begin walking to the grave. Zack is not aware of what's going on and grows suspicious when a deeply saddened Keith silently tells Frankie he can't go through with it, and, after giving Zack a goodbye hug, goes to wait in the car. Zack sees the grave and begins to break down, sobbing and begging Frankie and Elvis to let him go. Frankie tells Elvis that they shouldn't do it, but Elvis is keen on the job he's been given. Realizing now that there's no going back, Frankie calms Zack down and tells him that he would never hurt him, and ties a weeping Zack up with tape. He is astonished when Elvis violently knocks Zack into the grave with the shovel and then fires at Zack with the pistol, killing him. Frankie and Elvis then silently leave.
Despite all the cover up, Zack's body is found three days later. The epilogue shows the aftermath of the crime. Olivia, now suffering from obesity and depression, is interviewed. She talks candidly about her failed suicide attempts and the loss that she has experienced from her son's murder. Susan confronts Frankie over Zack's death and goes to the authorities. Elvis goes to Pick's house for help but Pick turns him down, angry over the murder. Soon the police arrive and Elvis makes a run for it, though he is quickly stopped and arrested. Johnny hears what happened, and he and his girlfriend leave L.A. for New Mexico. After going out to get cigarettes, he sees Angela being arrested and hitchhikes a ride to meet his old school friend, Buzz. Buzz agrees to drive Johnny out of the country, but changes his mind several times and ultimately goes back to L.A. to see Cosmo. Buzz drives away after a look from Cosmo.
Soon after, the gang members are found and arrested. Tiko is arrested at his house, with FBI agents raiding his house. Keith turns himself in out of guilt. Frankie is arrested after he finds his dad cooperating with the police. After being convicted, they all serve their respective sentences: Tiko serving nine years for the kidnapping; Keith serving at a juvenile facility until the age of 25 for digging Zack's grave and second-degree murder; Frankie serving a seven years to life for special circumstances of aggravated kidnapping. Elvis is put on death row for kidnapping and murdering Zack. Johnny, however, is nowhere to be found.
Back in the present, an interviewer is asking Sonny how Johnny was able to escape authorities for four years. He thinks Sonny helped Johnny and knows exactly where Johnny is. Sonny assures that he doesn't know where Johnny is. Eventually, after over five years of being on the America's Most Wanted list, Johnny is finally found and arrested in Paraguay, by Interpol, in 2005. Text on the screen informs the audience that Johnny is in California awaiting trial, and, if proven guilty, faces the death penalty.
NOTE: You might need to watch this movie again in the future. Make sure to include Alpha Dog [Blu-ray] in your movie collection.
Cast overview, first billed only:
Bruce Willis ... Sonny Truelove
Matthew Barry ... Interviewer (as Matt Barry)
Emile Hirsch ... Johnny Truelove
Fernando Vargas ... Tiko 'TKO' Martinez
Vincent Kartheiser ... Pick Giaimo
Justin Timberlake ... Frankie Ballenbacher
Shawn Hatosy ... Elvis Schmidt
Alex Solowitz ... Bobby '911'
Alec Vigil ... P.J. Truelove
Harry Dean Stanton ... Cosmo Gadabeeti
Frank Cassavetes ... Adrian Jones
Nicole Dubos ... Neighborhood Girl on Couch
Regina Rice ... Dance Bitch Girl
Laura Nativo ... Party Girl
Ben Foster ... Jake Mazursky
Directed by Nick Cassavetes
Produced by Sidney Kimmel
Written by Nick Cassavetes