Alpha Dog: A-

It’s no secret that after the enormous success and recognition he got for The Notebook, director Nick Cassavettes has become a complete prick as evidenced by his forum posts on imdb.com, but it should also be no secret that he can make a good film. While Alpha Dog never quite reaches the emotional scope of either The Notebook or John Q it packs a greater punch than most so-called “Oscar bait” that came out in the past few months. I credit Cassavettes himself for that as he yet again demonstrates his lack of emotional constraint and subtlety. In Alpha Dog, Cassavettes finally unleashes the characters and the f-bombs here will shock fans of The Notebook’s sweet nothings. But of course, the language here is totally appropriate, as the film does concern the commitment of a crime as performed by a group of fun-loving teenagers who only want one thing – the feeling of rebellion. Throughout Alpha Dog’s first part – a hardcore version of American Pie, even though the real nudity doesn’t come until the very end – Cassavettes shows all the hidden angst that teens feel even when life is all a big party and the second part is the ultimate release of all of it in what can only be described as the 30 minutes that changed my look at life. Unlike in John Q, Cassavettes has no breaks in the action or moments of humor in the third act. His gritty aesthetic and frenetic editing pace make for a restless and intricate time at the movies, and his refusal to acknowledge any beauty and goodness in society makes it a breath-taker. By the end, when we finally see Olivia Mazursky’s (Sharon Stone) demise, we realize the reality and the ugliness of the world and are forced to endure it as we get out of our seats and into the real world. Alpha Dog is a film that demands that we learn from it, as Cassavettes’s scrutiny turns away from Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) and back on to us. One of the best and most important teen dramas in a long while.

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