Alpha Dog

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For the term relating to dog behavior, see Alpha (biology). For the Fall Out Boy song, see Alpha Dog (song). For the Law & Order episode, see Alpha Dog (Law & Order: Criminal Intent).
Alpha Dog
Alphadog posterbig.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nick Cassavetes
Produced by Sidney Kimmel
Paul Ralph
Written by Nick Cassavetes
Starring Emile Hirsch
Justin Timberlake
Ben Foster
Shawn Hatosy
Anton Yelchin
Sharon Stone
Bruce Willis
Music by Aaron Zigman
Cinematography Robert Fraisse
Edited by Alan Heim
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • January 27, 2006 (2006-01-27) (Sundance)
  • January 12, 2007 (2007-01-12)
Running time
117 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Box office $32,145,115[2]

Alpha Dog is a 2006 American crime drama film written and directed by Nick Cassavetes, first screened at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2006, with a wide release the following year on January 12, 2007. Starring Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Ben Foster, Shawn Hatosy, Anton Yelchin, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried with Harry Dean Stanton, Sharon Stone, and Bruce Willis, 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 California.[3]


Johnny Truelove is a young marijuana dealer in Southern California. His father, Sonny, supplies him with marijuana, which Johnny distributes to his gang of friends, including Jake Mazursky, who owes Johnny a $1,200 drug debt. Mazursky makes a failed attempt at asking his stepmother, Olivia, and his biological father Butch for the money. Meanwhile, Olivia and Butch are dealing with their rebellious teenage son Zack; Jake's half-brother who admires his older brother. A fight breaks out between Jake and Johnny, when Jake tries to pay Johnny only part of his debt. After back and forth retaliation, Johnny and his two henchmen, Frankie Ballenbacher and Tiko "TKO" Martinez go to confront Jake in person. When they go to his house he is nowhere to be found, but as they leave they find Zack walking on the sidewalk and kidnap him, with the intent of holding onto Zack until Jake pays his debt.

Wanting a break from his home life, Zack makes little effort to escape. Johnny, meanwhile, pawns Zack off on Frankie, who offers him a chance to escape, but Zack declines the offer, not wanting to cause any trouble for his brother. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, and Zack stays with Frankie at his father's house, where he ingratiates himself with Frankie's friends, including Keith Stratten, and Julie, the youngest member of the group. A number of hangers-on and friends of the gang learn of Zack's kidnapping, though Susan is the only one who seems concerned about it.

Frankie grows nervous when Johnny hypothetically offers Frankie $2,500 to murder Zack. Frankie furiously declines and Johnny claims it was a joke. Instead, Johnny agrees to Frankie's plan to pay Zack to keep his mouth shut. However, after a conversation with his lawyer and a threatening phone call from Jake, Johnny decides the risk of ending up in prison or getting killed is too great to let Zack go. Johnny calls Elvis Schmidt and offers to erase his drug debt if he kills Zack. Meanwhile, at a raucous going-away party, Zack demonstrates his martial arts skills on Frankie, who realizes he could have easily escaped at any time. Frankie and his friends still believe Zack will be returning home at the end of the night. Zack has a good time at the party, and later goes skinny-dipping with Julie and her friend Alma in the pool, leading to the three hooking up. Afterwards, Julie gives Zack her number and Alma gives him a good-bye kiss on the cheek.

Elvis arrives at the hotel where Zack is waiting to be picked up and struggles with Frankie, who initially refuses to help, but Elvis convinces him that the consequences they may face by letting Zack go home are far too great. Elvis takes Keith to dig a grave while Frankie offers Zack a final opportunity to escape. Believing he is part of the group and will be returning home soon, Zack prefers to wait at the hotel for Elvis to return. Meanwhile, Sonny, Cosmo (Johnny's godfather), and Johnny's lawyer confront Johnny, who refuses to call off the hit. Frankie, Elvis, Zack, and Keith arrive at the grave site. Zack is not aware of what's going on and grows suspicious when a deeply saddened Keith silently tells Frankie he can't go through with it, and, after giving Zack a goodbye hug, he goes to wait in the car. Zack sees the grave and begins to break down, 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. Realizing that there's no turning back now, Frankie calms Zack down, and ties him up with duct tape. He is surprised when Elvis violently knocks Zack into the grave with the shovel and then guns him down. Frankie and Elvis silently leave.

Zack's body is found three days later. The epilogue shows the aftermath of the crime: Olivia, now suffering from obesity and depression, is interviewed, and talks candidly about her failed suicide attempts and the loss that she has experienced from her son's murder. Susan confronts Frankie over Zack's death and goes to the authorities. Elvis is caught while trying to secure a ride out of L.A. Johnny flees the city and arrives at the house of old classmate Buzz Fecske, who drives him back to his godfather Cosmo's house, where he enters and is not seen again.

TKO, Frankie, and Keith are arrested. After being convicted, they all serve their respective sentences: TKO serving nine years for the kidnapping; Keith at a juvenile facility until the age of 25 for digging Zack's grave and second-degree murder; Frankie serving a seven years to life for special circumstances of aggravated kidnapping. Elvis is put on death row for kidnapping and murdering Zack. Johnny, however, is nowhere to be found. The interviewer asks Sonny how Johnny was able to escape authorities for four years without help, but Sonny assures him that he doesn't know where Johnny is. In 2005, after over five years of being on the America's most wanted list, Johnny is finally found and arrested in Paraguay. Text informs the audience that Johnny is in California awaiting trial, and, if proven guilty, faces the death penalty.


Role Role in story Actor Real-life counterpart
Johnny Truelove Leader, the "alpha dog" Emile Hirsch Jesse James Hollywood (convicted July 8, 2009 of the kidnapping and murder of Nick Markowitz and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole[4]); 20 years old at the time.
Frankie "Nuts" Ballenbacher Johnny's right-man and best friend, who becomes friends with Zack when he is assigned to watch him 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. As of July 2, 2013, Jesse Rugge was granted parole. On October 24, 2013, Rugge was released from prison after serving 11 years of his life sentence for the aggravated kidnapping of Nicholas Markowitz.
Jake Mazursky Elder half-brother of victim Ben Foster Benjamin "Ben" Markowitz; 22 years old at the time. Served three years in prison for robbery. Since released.
Elvis Schmidt Member of the gang and shooter; at the beginning of the story, he is in debt to Johnny. Shawn Hatosy Ryan Hoyt (currently on death row at San Quentin for the murder of Nick Markowitz); 21 years old at the time.
Zack Mazursky Victim Anton Yelchin Nicholas "Nick" Markowitz (murdered by Ryan Hoyt, a member of Jesse James Hollywood's crew); 15 when he died. Hollywood has since been tried and convicted for the kidnapping and his role in the murder.
Olivia Mazursky Mother of victim Sharon Stone Susan Markowitz, Nick Markowitz's mother; later authored a book called My Stolen Son: The Nick Markowitz Story.
Sonny Truelove Johnny's father and marijuana supplier; implied he has Mafia connections. Bruce Willis John "Jack" Hollywood, Jesse James's father. Arrested in 2005, the same day son Jesse James was captured in Brazil, for manufacturing the illicit narcotic GHB,[5] 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 an Arizona prison.[6] Since released.
Keith Stratten Friend of Frankie who digs Zack's grave and is in the car but not present for the murder Chris Marquette Graham Pressley; 17 at the time. In July 2002 tried as a minor and October 2002 as an adult. Served five years in juvenile hall for digging Nick's grave. Charged with second degree murder (released from the California Youth Authority in 2007).
Susan Hartunian Friend of Frankie's who is concerned about Zack's well-being 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 Member of the gang and drug dealer Alex Solowitz Brian Affronti joined Hollywood and the crew minutes after they had kidnapped Nick; 20 at the time.
Tiko "TKO" Martinez Member of the gang; muscle of the group Fernando Vargas William Skidmore. Nine years in state prison for kidnapping and robbery out of a plea bargain; was released in April 2009. 20 at the time.[7]
Angela Holden Johnny's girlfriend, arrested while on the run with him in New Mexico Olivia Wilde Michelle Lasher, Hollywood's girlfriend; 19 at the time. Arrested for harboring a fugitive (Hollywood).
Julie Beckley Victim's girl Amanda Seyfried Jeanine, Nick's girlfriend; 17 at the time.
Pick Giaimo Associate of the gang whose car was used in the murder 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.
Buzz Fecske Johnny's childhood friend who drives him back to Los Angeles after he escapes the police in New Mexico 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.
Wanda Haynes Jake's girlfriend, waitress at a steakhouse Heather Wahlquist Ben's fiancée.
Cosmo Gadabeeti Johnny's godfather. Implied he has connections to the Mafia. Harry Dean Stanton John Roberts, Hollywood family close friend. His van was used in the kidnapping of Nick Markowitz.
Butch Mazursky Father of victim David Thornton Jeff Markowitz, Nick and Ben Markowitz's father.
Sabrina Pope Frankie's girlfriend Charity Shea Kelly Carpenter (given immunity in exchange for testimony), Rugge's girlfriend; 16 at the time.
Detective Tom Finnegan Police officer Holt McCallany Officer looking for Hollywood; he arrested the crew as well as interviewed witnesses.
Alma Friend of Julie who hooked up with Zack Amber Heard
The Interviewer Media person who interviews witnesses from the start until the end of the film Matthew Barry

Legal issues[edit]

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 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.[8][9] On December 20, 2006, the California Supreme Court granted review on the case effectively staying the order to recuse Zonen.[10] On May 12, 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that Zonen should not be recused.[11] 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 film.[12]

After the delay, Hollywood's trial started May 15, 2009 with the defense's opening statements saying Hollywood was not involved with the murder.[13] In his opening statement, Lynn described Hollywood as "a ruthless coward."[14] On July 8, 2009 he was convicted of kidnapping and first-degree murder with special circumstances for which he can face the death penalty.[4]


Box office[edit]

During its opening weekend, Alpha Dog grossed $6,412,775 and was #7 at the box office.[15] The film closed on February 22, 2007 after grossing $15,309,602 domestically, and totaled $32,145,115 worldwide over its six-week release.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received mixed reviews; out of 143 critics, 55% of them were positive[16] 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.[17]

Markowitz family reaction[edit]

Susan Markowitz attempted suicide three times.[18] 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?"[19] Nonetheless, Susan attended the film's release and reportedly was moved by Anton Yelchin's portrayal of Zack (Nick). After the screening, she embraced Sharon Stone, who played Olivia (Susan).[18]

Home media[edit]

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


Alpha Dog
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released January 9, 2007 (2007-01-09)
Recorded 2005-06
Genre Rap
Label Milan
Producer Aaron Zigman

A soundtrack was released by Milan Records on January 9, 2007.[21][22]

  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)


  1. ^ "ALPHA DOG (15)". Icon Film Distribution. British Board of Film Classification. April 21, 2006. Retrieved April 4, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Alpha Dog at Box Office Mojo. Retrieved on 2009-11-07.
  3. ^ "The real story behind 'Alpha Dog'". MSNBC. 2005. 
  4. ^ a b "Jesse James Hollywood convicted of murder, kidnapping". Associated Press. July 8, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  5. ^ "Longtime fugitive Jesse James Hollywood captured in Brazil". The San Diego Union-Tribune. March 10, 2005. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  6. ^ Piccalo, Gina (January 7, 2007). "No Hollywood ending; The true-crime `Alpha Dog' becomes a part of the teen murder case it depicts". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  7. ^ "Hollywood's Day in Court". The Santa Barbara Independent. May 21, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  8. ^ "Deputy DA removed from Jesse James Hollywood murder case". USA Today. October 5, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  9. ^ Hollywood v. Superior Court, 143 Cal. App. 4th 858, 49 Cal. Rptr. 3d 598 (2006).
  10. ^ "Jesse James Hollywood appeal turned down by the Supreme Court". Los Angeles Times. October 21, 2008. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  11. ^ Hollywood v. Superior Court, ___ Cal.4th ___ (May 12, 2008, S147954).
  12. ^ "DEFENDANT SUES OVER 'ALPHA DOG' JESSE JAMES HOLLYWOOD SEEKS TO STOP PRETRIAL FILM". Los Angeles Daily News. October 28, 2006. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  13. ^ Risling, Greg (May 15, 2009). "Jesse James Hollywood called coward at trial". Associated Press. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  14. ^ "Kidnap-murder trial opens for Jesse James Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. May 15, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  15. ^ Alpha Dog - Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
  16. ^ Alpha Dog - Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
  17. ^ Anton Yelchin Interview - Anton Yelchin on Alpha Dog, the True Story, and Charlie Bartlett
  18. ^ a b Gaby Wood, "Shooting stars", The Observer, April 1, 2007
  19. ^ "'Alpha Dog' Victim's Mother Attempts Suicide". 2007-01-07. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Alpha Dog soundtrack information at Milan Records
  22. ^ Alpha Dog soundtrack information at AllMusic

External links[edit]