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Alpha Dog is a 2006 crime drama film written and directed by Nick Cassavetes, released on January 27, 2006. 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 Californiamarker. The film stars Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Shawn Hatosy, Ben Foster, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried, Anton Yelchin with Sharon Stone and Bruce Willis.

Plot

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, Californiamarker 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.

Johnny's father, Sonny Truelove (Bruce Willis), 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. Jake tells Johnny that he'll never pay him the money. In retaliation, Johnny gets Jake fired from his job by ratting on him to his boss that Jake is on drugs. Later that night, Jake and his gang break into Johnny's house, stealing his flat-screen t.v., breaking his backyard window and defecating on the carpet. The next day, Johnny, Frankie and Tiko decide to go to Jake personally and collect the money with the threat of violence. On the way, though, they stumble upon his brother Zack Mazursky (Anton Yelchin) and decide to kidnap him in broad daylight, throwing him into the van. Frankie is worried about the situation, while Johnny is thinking about what to do with him.

Zack makes little effort to escape. Frankie offers him beer and cigarettes, which he accepts. During a street fiesta, Frankie offers him a chance to escape, which Zack declines, not wanting to cause him trouble with Johnny. 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, resulting in an intense fight between Jake and the party-goers. The next morning, Zack meets some of Frankie's friends, including Keith Stratten (Chris Marquette), a young pothead, and even strikes up a relationship with Julie (Amanda Seyfried), the youngest member of the group. They all learn of Zack's kidnapping, yet do nothing as Zack seems cool with everything. Julie even refers to him as 'Stolen Boy', and thinks it's hot. Johnny comes over and discusses with Frankie what to do. Frankie grows nervous when Johnny asks Frankie about the possibility of having Zack killed and disposed of, though he quickly dismisses it. Frankie suggests that they can "grease the kid", or offer Zack money for him to keep his mouth shut, and just sort the whole situation privately with Jake. Johnny agrees and the night turns into a party at Frankie's house.

The next day, back at Zack's home, Olivia and Butch do everything they can to find Zack. Missing Person posters are put up. Johnny becomes increasingly paranoid about the situation. He 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 "rip his throat out and eat his heart". Johnny hangs up and calls his lawyer and explains the situation. His lawyer tells him that Johnny is looking at 25 years to life in prison for his actions if Zack rats them out. High with anxiety, Johnny seems to have made up his mind.

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. Johnny gives him a TEC-9 pistol and leaves with his girlfriend. Back at the party, Zack loses his virginity when he has sex with Julie and her girlfriend, Alma (Amber Heard). Elvis arrives at the hotel and explains to Frankie that he is taking Zack home, at which point the party ends and everyone leaves except for Frankie, Zack, Elvis, and Keith. Frankie is relieved to have Zack go home until Elvis reveals Johnny's plan to kill Zack. 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.

Back at Johnny's house, his dad, Sonny, finds out about Zack, and he and their attorney confront him about the kidnapping. Sonny is furious with his son, and when he learns of Johnny's plan to kill Zack, he commands that he call it off, which Johnny refuses, believing that Elvis and Frankie aren't really going to kill Zack. Meanwhile, Frankie, Elvis, Zack and Keith arrive in the hills. They start walking up a hill. Zack is not aware of what's going to happen and is tricked into believing someone's picking him up. He grows a little 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 van. Realizing what's happening, a panicky Zack asks Frankie what they're doing, Frankie reassures him and the three continue walking up the hill. 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. 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 knocks Zack into the grave with the shovel and then fires at Zack with the pistol, killing him. Frankie and Elvis then silently leave.

Zack's body is found three days later. The epilogue shows the aftermath of the crime. Olivia is interviewed; she talks candidly about her failed suicide attempts and the loss that she has experienced from her son's murder. After being convicted, the gang members serve time: 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 life sentence for aggravated kidnapping; and Elvis on death row for murdering Zack. Johnny disappears and is finally arrested in Paraguay in 2005 after 5 years of being on the America's Most Wanted list and, if proven guilty, faces the death penalty.

Cast

Role Actor Real-life Counterpart
Johnny Truelove (leader) Emile Hirsch Jesse James Hollywood (convicted July 8, 2009 of the kidnapping and murder of Nick Markowitz and was sentenced to life in prison.); 20 years old at the time.
Frankie Ballenbacher Justin Timberlake Jesse Rugge (sentenced to life in prison, for the kidnapping of Nick Markowitz with the possibility of parole after seven years. His petition for parole was denied in 2006.); 20 years old at the time.
Elvis Schmidt (shooter) Shawn Hatosy Ryan Hoyt (on death row at San Quentin for the murder of Nick Markowitz); 21 years old at the time.
Jake Mazursky (elder half-brother of victim) Ben Foster Benjamin Markowitz; 21 years old at the time. Served three years in prison for robbery. Since released.
Zack Mazursky (victim) Anton Yelchin Nicholas Markowitz (murdered by Ryan Hoyt, a member of Jesse James Hollywood's crew.) Hollywood has since been tried and convicted for the kidnapping and his role in the murder. 15 when he died.
Olivia Mazursky (mother of victim) Sharon Stone Susan Markowitz
Keith Stratten Chris Marquette Graham Pressley; 17 at the time. In July 2002 tried as an minor and October 2002 as an adult. Served five years in juvie for digging Nick's grave. Second degree murder. (Released from the California Youth Authority in 2007.)
Susan Hartunian Dominique Swain Natasha Adams-Young (given immunity in exchange for her testimony). Friend of Rugge, Graham, and Nick; 19 at the time. After reading in the paper that Nick was murdered, she confronted Rugge and asked if he had anything to do with it. Despite Rugge explaining that he didn't, she knew he was lying and she told her father, a lawyer, what happened; he in turn called police.
Bobby "911" Kaye Alex Solowitz Brian Affronti joined Hollywood and the crew minutes after they had kidnapped Nick; 20 at the time.
Tiko 'TKO' Martinez Fernando Vargas William Skidmore Nine years in state prison for kidnapping and robbery out of a plea bargain; 20 at the time. Skidmore was released in April 2009.
Angela Holden Olivia Wilde Michelle Lasher, Hollywood's girlfriend; 21 at the time. Arrested for harboring a fugitive (Hollywood).
Buzz Fecske Lukas Haas Chas Saulsbury, Hollywood's friend. Last met during junior high. Tried to help Hollywood get out of the country. Arrested for harboring a fugitive.
Sonny Truelove Bruce Willis John "Jack" Hollywood Jesse James's father. Arrested in 2005, the same day son Jesse James was captured in Brazilmarker, for manufacturing the illicit narcotic GHB, but the charge was later thrown out in court. Jack remained in custody on an outstanding 2002 warrant for a marijuana-related charge, and later received 18 months in a Arizonamarker prison. Since released.
Wanda Haynes Heather Wahlquist Ben's fiancée.
Julie Beckley Amanda Seyfried Nick's girlfriend; 17 at the time.
Pick Giaimo Vincent Kartheiser Casey Sheehan, Hollywood's friend. His vehicle was used in the murder of Nick Markowitz. Arrested, then bailed out; 20 at the time.
Cosmo Gadabeeti Harry Dean Stanton John Roberts, Jesse James's godfather, and Jack's best friend. His van was used in the kidnapping of Nick Markowitz.
Detective Tom Finnegan Holt McCallany Officer looking for Hollywood; he arrested the crew as well as interviewed witnesses.
Sabrina Charity Shea Kelly Carpenter (given immunity in exchange for testimony), Rugge's girlfriend; 16 at the time.
Alma Amber Heard


Legal issues

During filming, Santa Barbara Countymarker Deputy District Attorney Ronald J. Zonen provided copies of many documents on the case and served as an unpaid consultant to the film, citing his desire to have Hollywood captured. Zonen prosecuted Hollywood’s co-defendants and was poised to prosecute Hollywood. After Hollywood was captured in Saquarema, Brazil and subsequently returned to the United States, his defense lawyer claimed there was a conflict of interest, and the California Court of Appeal for the Second District ruled on October 5, 2006 that, based on Zonen's disclosure of the files and consultant service—he should be recused from further involvement in prosecuting Hollywood. On December 20, 2006, the California Supreme Courtmarker granted review on the case effectively staying the order to recuse Zonen.On May 12, 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that Zonen should not be recused. Nonetheless, Zonen was replaced as lead prosecution attorney by Deputy Dist. Atty. Joshua Lynn.

In addition, Hollywood's attorney James Blatt tried to block the release of the movie.

After the delay, Hollywood's trial started May 15, 2009 with the defense's opening statements saying Hollywood was not involved with the murder. In his opening statement, Lynn described Hollywood as "a ruthless coward." On July 8, 2009 he was convicted of kidnapping and first-degree murder with special circumstances for which he can face the death penalty.

Reception

Box office

During its opening weekend, Alpha Dog grossed $6,412,775 and was in 7th at the box office. The film closed on February 22, 2007 after grossing $15.2 million domestically, and totaled $30,774,935 worldwide over its six-week release.

Critical response

The film received mixed to positive reviews with a 56% rating on rottentomatoes.com, the consensus being, "a glossy yet unflinching portrait of violent, hedonistic teenagers. Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone chew the scenery, while Justin Timberlake gives a noteworthy performance." Up-and-comer Anton Yelchin is praised as "able to bring all of the conflicting emotions of Zach," and conveying all of it beautifully.

Home media

Alpha Dog was released on DVD on May 1, 2007. It includes a DVD/HD DVD combo package where both forms are included in one box. DVD sales gathered $12,324,535 in revenue from 743,036 units sold.

Susan and Jeff Markowitz's reaction

Susan Markowitz has attempted to commit suicide three times. Jeff Markowitz elaborated, "She is so tortured by what happened that she has tried to take her own life. The last thing that either of us want is to see this picture. How would any loving parent feel about a Hollywood movie that glamorizes their son's death and allows celebrities to cash in on a brutal, evil murder?" Nonetheless, Susan Markowitz attended the film's release and reportedly was moved by Anton Yelchin's portrayal of her son. After the screening she embraced Sharon Stone, who played her in the movie.

References

  1. Hollywood v. Superior Court, 143 Cal. App. 4th 858, 49 Cal. Rptr. 3d 598 (2006).
  2. Hollywood v. Superior Court, ___ Cal.4th ___ (May 12, 2008, S147954).
  3. Alpha Dog - Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
  4. Alpha Dog - Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
  5. Anton Yelchin Interview - Anton Yelchin on Alpha Dog, the True Story, and Charlie Bartlett
  6. http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2007/ALPHA-DVD.php
  7. Gaby Wood, "Shooting stars", The Observer, Sunday 1 April 2007


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