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Alpha Dog

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 1 Jan
Alpha Dog
from Film Forum, 01/18/07

Rachel Saltz in The New York Timeswrites that Alpha Dog "has much the same entertainment value you get from watching monkeys fling scat at one another in a zoo or reading the latest issue of Star magazine."

(Wait, does she mean that the monkeys are reading Star magazine? Oh never mind.)

With a review like that, you'd expect that the rest of the critics would fall in line, trying to out-do each other with put-downs for Nick Cassavetes' film, which is earning some hype for the participation of pop star Justin Timberlake. While the film seems to be about the sad plight of young people who are lost and reckless, many find the film disingenuous for the way it glorifies lurid behavior. Whatever they say, the young fans of the man who sings "Sexyback" are likely to line up in droves for Alpha Dog ("Sexy-bark"?)

But one Christian film critic is sticking up for the film.

Greg Wright (Past the Popcorn) says, "There are no heroes, there is no happy ending. It is a movie that will challenge your thinking; I can't imagine anyone sitting passively through it without finding something that strikes a chord within. … [S]omewhere along the way I started caring about the characters, even the ones that seemed unlikable on the surface. It's a reminder that people we think are 'bad' are usually just people that make bad choices, often without thinking through the consequences."

But David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says Cassavetes "effectively conveys the nihilism and morally vacant lifestyles of his disaffected youths—an indictment of irresponsible parenting as much as the corrosive influence of much of today's pop culture—but the story is emotionally uninvolving and the overall raw tone and incessant sordidness, while perhaps accurately reflecting reality, are excessive."

Christa Banister (Crosswalk) sends a memo to Timberlake: "Next time you consider a cinematic detour from your musician's day job, find a stronger script." She concludes, "[W]hat we're supposed to learn from this senseless tragedy is that unfortunate incidents like these happen everyday—even in affluent neighborhoods. … But unfortunately, the artificial gloss of the characters and unrealistic dialogue … doesn't do much to get the message across."

Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) says, "Those involved with Alpha Dog insist it offers serious social commentary. … Even if we accept the director's comments about what motivated him to tell this bleak story, Alpha Dog still has one overarching—and huge—problem: It glorifies the very things it's ostensibly warning against."

Mainstream critics are split over Alpha Dog.

from Film Forum, 02/01/07

Josh Allan (Relevant) writes, "When it comes down to it, though, for me this movie was all about choice. I've come to believe that what we might call 'decisions' are actually the inevitable result of thousands, if not millions, of seemingly meaningless, trivial choices. We, in a sense, destine ourselves to the future of our own choosing by the stops we make along life's highway. The tragedy of Alpha Dog does not lie solely in the bad choices made—though they are there as well—but in the horrific lie of the group mentality that choice is not yours to make."

Denny Wayman (Cinema in Focus) reviews the film from a unique perspective—as a former pastor to one of the men depicted in Nick Cassavetes' troubling film about young criminals. He gives it only one star, but writes: "The message of the film is clear as it is stated by Sonny Truelove in the opening 'interview' by the filmmaker: it is all about parents.If we do not protect our young from this culture then we will see more violence perpetrated by soulless 'alpha dogs' somewhere."

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