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June 5, 2008
Alpha Dog Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
3/1/2007 (US)15/11/2007Icon PicturesNick Cassavetes
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD 5.1 Master AudioMA15+Ben Foster

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It's "stolen boy" as he becomes known.

To be honest I hadn't really heard of Alpha Dog until I saw the movie on Blu-Ray recently. It's no wonder though as a bit of research showed that the movie didn't even see a release in cinemas here in Australia, and only took a modest $US30 million around the globe. But it's here on Blu-Ray and there are a couple of reasons to check this movie out not least of which is the fact that the movie is based on the real life kidnapping of Nicholas Markowitz by Jesse James Hollywood (although names have been changed for the movie). Interested? Read on...

They grew up together in the suburbs of LA, living their own version of the American dream, with every day a blur of partying and looking for the next thrill. Johnny Truelove (Jesse James Hollywood in real life, and played here by Emile Hirsch) is the leader in their sordid world of drugs, greed, power and privilege. But when he is double-crossed by another dealer, Jake Mazursky, things quickly begin to spiral out of control when Johnny kidnaps Mazursky's 15 year old brother Zack. It is an impulsive kidnapping that leads to a conclusion that no one expected, or wanted.

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Pulling that tough gangsta pose!
The acting in this movie really is quite superb. Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone and Harry Dean Stanton are as brilliant as always, although each of their parts is fairly limited in screen time. Two others really stood out for me though - Justin Timberlake and Anton Yelchin. Now I'm not really a big fan of Justin Timberlake, and his pop background gave me serious cause from concern. But much like Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper or Eric Bana in Chopper, Justin Timberlake transforms superbly into hard assed, drug taking Frankie "Nuts" Ballenbacher.

If you needed more proof that Anton Yelchin is set to become a massive star around the globe then look at his two roles for 2009 - Pavel Chekov in Star Trek and Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins. He lights up the screen in Alpha Dog as the Zack, the "stolen boy". You really do root for him throughout this movie, but it's not hard to understand how he saw his kidnapping as the time of his life as well.

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Zack runs away from the kidnappers!
After watching the movie, and as I seem to do with most movies based on real life I spent quite a bit of time doing research into how close this movie is to real life. It is actually very accurate, no doubt due to Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney Ronald J. Zonen providing almost every document related to the case to the filmmakers, which make the events even more impactful on the viewer with only a few changes including the year it takes place (the movie is set in 1999, the real events took place in 2000), and some names.

It's fair to say that Alpha Dog isn't the best crime/hostage/abduction movie ever seen, but given that it is based on real-life events it is all the more gripping. Be warned though there is plenty of swearing in this movie and the MA15+ rating is certainly deserved. Still, a movie which I enjoyed.

Alpha Dog has been encoded using the AVC MPEG-4 codec at the films original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in 1080p. For the most part the print is clean with no signs of film artifacts, and the generally high bitrate of around 28-38Mbps ensures that there are few compression issues either. In fact, many of the outdoor scenes could be classed as reference quality.

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Justin Timberlake is great as Frankie.
While the image quality is, for the most part, very impressive there are certainly some issues. Many of these can be put down to the source material rather then the actual encoding for this disc. First of all many of the scenes, particularly those indoors when partying, show some inconsistent colouring with flesh tones boarding on an unnatural orange (have a look at the scene from 14:05 to see what I mean). There's also a weird effect from 27:41-28:00 with the character on-screen talking having a lighter patch on him - it's like the filmmakers were trying to lighten the image, but it fades to sudden darkness and gives off a weird halo look.

The other glaring issue occurs near the end of the film on the mountain (check out 1:35:16 to 1:38:00 to see what I mean). Colours appear washed out and it certainly looks like the filming took place in front of a blue screen with some horrendous results.

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Even Bruce Willis makes an appearance!

To be honest I wasn't expecting much from this Blu-Ray release in terms of audio due to the relative low budget of the movie, but Icon Pictures have gone all out to make sure everyone is catered for. There are three tracks in total on this disc, all English. They are Dolby Digital 2.0 at 224kbps, Dolby Digital 5.1 at 640kbps, and a cracking DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which, if you have the means is certainly the preferred listening method.

Alpha Dog is a dialogue driven movie and it remains clear to understand even in the busier party scenes, or those with thumping bass. Just a word of warning to parents out there, there is a lot of swearing in this movie (indeed according to IMDB "fuck" is uttered some 367 times in the 117 minute runtime!). The only subtitle track on this release is English for the Hard of Hearing which is pretty accurate to the on-screen dialogue.

Sadly there is only a single extra on this Blu-Ray release. No trailers, no commentary, no deleted scenes. The only omission on this Blu-Ray release over the DVD release are some 'witness' statements from actual witnesses. Let's have a look at what is provided then shall we...

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Sharon Stone plays Zack's mother.
"A Cautionary Tale" - the Making Of Alpha Dog (11:37/HD): Now this is a strange featurette, not due to the content, but rather due to the way in which this is presented. The featurette is, we assume due to standard definition footage, shown within a small on the screen, with a static image around it. In terms of actual content this contains your usual interviews with cast and crew saying how interesting the material was and what it was like working on the film. I would have loved to see so much more about this movie, and real events, in the feature.

There's no denying that Alpha Dog isn't a movie for everyone. It's filled with drugs and swearing with some sex thrown in for good measure, but those looking for an engrossing, and true, story should check this movie out. There are some fine performances here and the Blu-Ray offers a pretty sharp, although not perfect, image. Alpha Dog is in stores now, but at the very least it's worth a rental.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Icon Pictures. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.