Alpha Dog is a 2006 American crime drama film written and directed by Nick Cassavetes. Starring Emile HirschJustin TimberlakeBen FosterShawn HatosyAnton YelchinOlivia Wilde, and Amanda Seyfried with Harry Dean StantonSharon Stone, and Bruce Willis, the film is loosely based on the true story of the kidnapping and murder of Nicholas Markowitz in 2000.

Alpha Dog was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2006, with a wide release the following year on January 12, 2007. It received mixed reviews from critics and grossed over $32 million worldwide.

Plot[edit | edit source]

In 1999, Johnny Truelove is a young drug dealer living in the San Gabriel Valley, in Southern California. His father, Sonny, supplies him with marijuana, which Johnny distributes to his gang of friends, which include Frankie Ballenbacher, Johnny's right-hand man; Tiko Martinez, the muscle of the group; Elvis Schmidt, a ridiculed member of the group who is indebted to Johnny; and Jake Mazursky, a short-tempered junkie who is also in debt with Johnny.

Jake goes to his parents’ home in Claremont and makes a failed attempt at borrowing money from his father Butch and stepmother Olivia, who themselves are dealing with their other rebellious son: Zack Mazursky, Jake's younger half-brother who looks up to him. That night, a fight breaks out between Jake and Johnny when the former tries to pay Johnny only part of his debt. After back and forth escalating retaliation, Johnny brings Frankie and Tiko to go and confront Jake in person, but when they arrive at his apartment he is nowhere to be found.

At the Mazursky home, Olivia and Butch find drugs in Zack's possession and confront him, but Zack decides to sneak out and run away from home. Driving by, Johnny spots him on the side of the road and impulsively orders the gang to kidnap him with the intent of holding on to him until Jake pays his debt. Wanting a break from his home life, Zack makes no effort to escape. The group drives down to Palm Springs with plans to party for the next few days. Johnny leaves Frankie to watch Zack and he offers Zack a chance to leave, but Zack declines, not wanting to cause any problems for his brother. Zack stays with Frankie at his father's house and the two develop a friendship over drinking, smoking, and doing chores around Frankie's house. The next day, Zack ingratiates himself with Frankie's friends Keith, Julie, Sabrina, and Susan; although the latter is the only one who seems concerned.

Frankie meets with Johnny and grows nervous when Johnny tells him that they could get in serious trouble for the kidnapping. Frankie suggests they pay Zack to keep quiet about the kidnapping upon returning home; Johnny agrees. However, the next day after a threatening phone call with Jake, and a phone conversation from his lawyer who tells him he could face life in prison for the kidnapping, he decides the risk of ending up dead or in jail is too great to let Zack go. Johnny calls Elvis and offers to erase his debt if he kills Zack, giving him a submachine gun. Frankie and his friends still believe Zack will be returning home that night and throw a raucous going away party at a hotel. Zack has a good time at the party, and later goes skinny dipping with Julie and her friend Alma, which leads to a romantic threesome in the pool. The party soon ends and everybody happily says good-bye to Zack and leave Zack, Frankie, and Keith at the hotel.

Elvis arrives at the hotel and he and Frankie begin to argue when he reveals Johnny sent him there to kill Zack. While Frankie runs off, Elvis goes inside and introduces himself to Zack. Elvis then takes Keith out to help him dig a grave in a secluded part of the nearby mountains. Frankie returns to the hotel and offers Zack a final opportunity to escape, but believing that he will be returning home soon, Zack prefers to continue watching a movie. When Elvis and Keith return to the hotel, Elvis and Frankie go outside to talk. Frankie, reluctant because of the friendship he has formed with Zack, finally relents when Elvis tells him they could face life in prison, in addition to problems with Jake and Johnny, if Zack goes free. Meanwhile, Sonny, Cosmo (Johnny's godfather), and their lawyer confront Johnny, who stubbornly refuses to call off the hit, even when they present him the offer to spend a minimal amount of jail time with a plea deal.

Zack and the others arrive at the grave site. Zack is not aware of what's going on but grows suspicious when a saddened Keith tells Frankie he can't go through with it. Zack begins to break down and begs them to let him go. Frankie tells Elvis one last time that they shouldn't do it, but Elvis insists on following through. Frankie calms Zack down and proceeds to tie Zack up with duct tape. Elvis then knocks Zack into the grave with the shovel and shoots him to death. Despite the seclusion of the spot, Zack's body is eventually found.

Certain parts of the film are intercut with scenes from interviews, conducted by detective Tom Finnegan, of people connected to Johnny and his group. The film also makes note of the multiple witnesses—ranging from onlookers, partygoers, friends, and family members—that saw Zack in between his initial kidnapping and eventual murder, which total up to 38. The epilogue shows the aftermath of the crime. Olivia, now suffering from obesity and depression, talks candidly to Finnegan about her suicide attempts and the loss that she has experienced from her son's death. Susan angrily confronts Frankie over Zack's death and goes to the authorities. Elvis is caught while trying to secure a ride out of town. Johnny flees the city as far as Albuquerque and arrives at the house of an old classmate, who drives him to Cosmo's house, where he enters and is not seen again.

Tiko, Keith, and Frankie are all arrested, convicted, and are given their respective sentences. Tiko is convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to nine years in prison; Keith is convicted of second degree murder for digging Zack's grave and remains at the California Youth Authority until the age of 25; Frankie is convicted of aggravated kidnapping of special circumstances and receives a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 7 years; Elvis is convicted of kidnapping and first degree murder, and is currently on Death Row in San Quentin State Prison.

Finnegan interviews Sonny and Cosmo, asking Sonny how his son was able to escape authorities for four years without help, but Sonny assures him he doesn't know where his son is. On screen text reveals that in 2005, after over five years of being on America's most wanted list, Johnny is finally found and arrested in Paraguay. Johnny is in California awaiting trial, and, if proven guilty, faces the death penalty.

Cast[edit | edit source]

  • Emile Hirsch as Johnny Truelove, the leader, or the "alpha dog." Inspired by Jesse James Hollywood. Hollywood was convicted on July 8, 2009, for ordering the kidnapping and murder of Nick Markowitz and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole; He was 20 years old at the time of the murder.[citation needed]
  • Justin Timberlake as Frankie "Nuts" Ballenbacher, Johnny's right hand man and best friend, who becomes friends with Zack when he is assigned to watch him. Inspired by Jesse Rugge. Rugge was acquitted of 1st degree murder, but was charged with aggravated kidnapping with special circumstances. He was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after seven years. His petition for parole was denied in 2006. On July 2, 2013, Rugge was granted parole, and on October 24, 2013, he was released from prison after serving 11 years of his life sentence. He was 20 years old at the time of the crime.
  • Ben Foster as Jake Mazursky, Zack's older brother. Inspired by Benjamin Markowitz. Markowitz was 22 years old at the time of the crimes against his half-brother and served three years in prison for robbery but has since been released.
  • Shawn Hatosy as Elvis Schmidt, the lowest member of the gang and the shooter. At the beginning of the story, he is in debt to Johnny. Inspired by Ryan Hoyt. Hoyt is currently on death row at San Quentin for the murder of Nick Markowitz. He was 21 years old at the time of the crime.[citation needed]
  • Anton Yelchin as Zack Mazursky, the victim. Inspired by Nicholas Markowitz. Markowitz was murdered by Ryan Hoyt, a member of Jesse James Hollywood's crew; he was 15 years old when he died. Hollywood has since been tried and convicted for the kidnapping and his role in the murder.[citation needed]
  • Sharon Stone as Olivia Mazursky, Zack's mother. Inspired by Susan Markowitz. Susan is Nick Markowitz's mother; she later authored a book called My Stolen Son: The Nick Markowitz Story
  • Bruce Willis as Sonny Truelove, Johnny's father and marijuana supplier. It is implied that he has Mafia connections. Inspired by John "Jack" Hollywood. Hollywood is Jesse James's father. He was arrested in 2005, the same day son Jesse James was captured in Brazil, for manufacturing GHB, but the charge was later dismissed. Jack remained in custody on an outstanding 2002 warrant for a marijuana-related charge and later received 18 months in an Arizona prison. He has since been released.
  • Chris Marquette as Keith Stratten, a friend of Frankie who digs Zack's grave but is not present for the murder. Inspired by Graham Pressley. In July 2002, he was tried as a minor and in October 2002 as an adult. Served eight years at the California Youth Authority until he was released in 2007 at the age of 25. Age 17 at the time.[citation needed]
  • Dominique Swain as Susan Hartunian, a friend of Frankie's who is concerned about Zack's well-being. Inspired by Natasha Adams-Young. Adams-Young was given immunity in exchange for her testimony. Friend of Rugge and Graham. 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 told her father, a lawyer, what happened. In turn, called the police. Age 19 at the time.[citation needed]
  • Alex Solowitz as Bobby "911" Kaye, a member of the gang. Inspired by Brian Affronti. Affronti joined Hollywood and the crew minutes after they had kidnapped Nick. 20 years old at the time.
  • Fernando Vargas as Tiko "TKO" Martinez, a member of the gang and muscle of the group. Inspired by William Skidmore. Skidmore served nine years in state prison for kidnapping and robbery out of a plea bargain and was released in April 2009. 20 years old at the time.
  • Olivia Wilde as Angela Holden, Johnny's girlfriend. Inspired by Michelle Lasher. Hollywood's girlfriend. She was arrested while on the run with him and charged with harboring a fugitive. 19 years old at the time.[citation needed]
  • Amanda Seyfried as Julie Beckley, Zack's girlfriend. Inspired by Jeanine, Nick's girlfriend. 17 years old at the time.[citation needed]
  • Vincent Kartheiser as Pick Giaimo, a member of the gang whose car was used in the murder. Inspired by Casey Sheehan. Sheehan was one of Hollywood's friends. His vehicle was used in the murder of Nick Markowitz. Arrested, then bailed out; 20 years old at the time.[citation needed]
  • Lukas Haas as Buzz Fecske, Johnny's childhood friend who drives him back to Los Angeles after he escapes the police in New Mexico.
  • Heather Wahlquist as Wanda Haynes, Jake's girlfriend, a waitress at a steakhouse.
  • Harry Dean Stanton as Cosmo Gadabeeti, Johnny's godfather. Implied he has connections to the Mafia. Inspired by Jon Roberts. Roberts was a Hollywood family close friend. His van was used in the kidnapping of Nick Markowitz.
  • David Thornton as Butch Mazursky, Zack and Jake's father. Inspired by Jeff Markowitz. Markowitz was Nick and Ben Markowitz's father.
  • Charity Shea as Sabrina Pope, Frankie's girlfriend. Inspired by Kelly Carpenter. Carpenter was given immunity in exchange for testimony, Rugge's girlfriend; 16 at the time.
  • Holt McCallany as Detective Tom Finnegan, police officer. Finnegan was the officer looking for Hollywood; he arrested the crew as well as interviewed witnesses.
  • Amber Heard as Alma, a friend of Julie who hooked up with Zack.

Legal issues[edit | edit source]

During filming, Santa Barbara County 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 Zonen had a conflict of interest; the California Court of Appeal for the Second District ruled on October 5, 2006, that Zonen should be recused from further involvement in prosecuting Hollywood because of his disclosure of the files and work on the film. The California Supreme Court subsequently reversed that holding, but Zonen was replaced as lead prosecution attorney by Deputy District Attorney Joshua Lynn.[citation needed]

Hollywood's attorney, James Blatt, tried to block the release of the film. 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, Hollywood was convicted of simple kidnapping and first-degree murder with special circumstances and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Release[edit | edit source]

Alpha Dog was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2006 as the closing film. The film was originally to be distributed by New Line Cinema, however, the company they sold the film to Universal Pictures after they requested edits to the film that director Nick Cassavetes didn't want to make. The film's release was delay by a year to January 12, 2007.

Home media[edit | edit source]

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. It was released on the Blu-ray format on July 13, 2010.

Reception[edit | edit source]

Box office[edit | edit source]

During its opening weekend, Alpha Dog grossed $6,412,775 and was #7 at the box office. The film closed on February 22, 2007 after grossing $15,309,602 domestically, and totaled $32,145,115 worldwide over its six-week release.

Critical reception[edit | edit source]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received mixed reviews; out of 144 critics, 54% of them were positive with 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."

Yelchin was praised as "able to bring all of the conflicting emotions of Zack," and conveying all of it beautifully.

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B-" on an A+ to F scale.

Markowitz family reaction[edit | edit source]

Susan Markowitz attempted 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, both Susan and Jeff attended the film's premiere, and Susan stated she was moved by Anton Yelchin's portrayal of Zack (Nick). After the screening, she embraced Sharon Stone, who played Olivia (Susan).

Accolades[edit | edit source]

Award nominations for Alpha Dog
Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result
2006 Young Hollywood Awards Breakthrough Performance - Male Ben Foster Won
2007 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actor Ben Foster (Also for 3:10 to Yuma) Nominated
Gran Premio Internazionale del Doppiaggio Best Rising Voice Actor Andrea Mete (for the dubbing of Justin Timberlake) Won
Best Voice Actor Massimiliano Alto (for the dubbing of Emile Hirsch) Nominated
Best Supporting Voice Actor Loris Loddi (for the dubbing of Ben Foster) Nominated
Best Dubbing Direction Marco Mete Nominated
Best Dubbing Technician Stefano Nissolino Nominated
Il Festival Nazionale del Doppiaggio Voci nell'Ombra Best Character Actor Voice Loris Loddi (for the dubbing of Ben Foster) Won
MTV Movie Awards Breakthrough Performance Justin Timberlake Nominated
Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie: Breakout Male Justin Timberlake (Also for Black Snake Moan) Nominated

Soundtrack[edit | edit source]

Alpha Dog
Soundtrack album by

Various Artists

Released January 9, 2007
Recorded 2005-06
Genre Rap
Label Milan
Producer Aaron Zigman

A soundtrack was released by Milan Records on January 9, 2007.

  1. "Over the Rainbow" (Eva Cassidy)
  2. "Enemy and I" (Lazarus)
  3. "Bullet & a Target" (Citizen Cope)
  4. "Jake Breaks In" (Paul Bushnell)
  5. "Caribou Lou" (Tech N9ne)
  6. "Revolving" (Paul Bushnell)
  7. "Slither" (Tech N9ne)
  8. "Liar" (Miredys Peguero & Paul Graham)
  9. "Winner" (Paul Bushnell)
  10. "Let's Chill" (Mic Holden, Maya & Reneé Rogers)
  11. "Dragonfly" (Miredys Peguero & Paul Bushnell)
  12. "LA LA Land" (Tech N9ne feat. Gina Cassavetes)
  13. "Pool Party" (Mic Holden)
  14. "Never Give Up" (Mic Holden)
  15. "At the Site/Driving to the Site"
  16. "We Are The Lost" (Lawrence Faljean)
  17. "Basketball" (Lowd)
  18. "Cookie Monster" (Paul Graham & Paul Bushnell)
  19. "Elvis Arrested"
  20. "Weightlifting" (Lowd)
  21. "Marco Polo" (Lowd & Cassie Simone)
  22. "Night and Day" (Tech N9ne)
  23. "Say Goodbye Hollywood" (Eminem)

References[edit | edit source]

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