Alpha Dog

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Alpha Dog
Alphadog posterbig.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNick Cassavetes
Produced bySidney Kimmel
Paul Ralph
Written byNick Cassavetes
StarringEmile Hirsch
Justin Timberlake
Ben Foster
Shawn Hatosy
Anton Yelchin
Sharon Stone
Bruce Willis
Olivia Wilde
Amanda Seyfried
Dominique Swain
Harry Dean Stanton
Music byAaron Zigman
CinematographyRobert Fraisse
Edited byAlan Heim
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • January 27, 2006 (2006-01-27) (Sundance)
  • January 12, 2007 (2007-01-12)
Running time
117 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$32.1 million[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 Nicholas Markowitz in 2000.[3]


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 skin head 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 step-mother 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 from 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 Zack hooking up with them 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 where Zack is waiting to be picked up, 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 wait for Elvis. 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 given 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. When Zack sees the grave, he 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 days later.

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 32. 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 and serve 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.


The leader, or the "alpha dog." Jesse James Hollywood in real life. 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;[4] 20 years old at the time.
Johnny's right hand man and best friend, who becomes friends with Zack when he is assigned to watch him. Jesse Rugge in real life. 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. 20 years old at the time.
Zack's older brother. Benjamin Markowitz in real life. Markowitz was 22 years old at the time. Served three years in prison for robbery but has since been released.
The lowest member of the gang and shooter; at the beginning of the story, he is in debt to Johnny. Ryan Hoyt in real life. Hoyt is currently on death row at San Quentin for the murder of Nick Markowitz. 21 years old at the time.
Victim. Nicholas Markowitz in real life. Markowitz was murdered by Ryan Hoyt, a member of Jesse James Hollywood's crew; 15 years old when he died. Hollywood has since been tried and convicted for the kidnapping and his role in the murder.
Zack's mother. Susan Markowitz in real life. Susan is Nick Markowitz's mother; later authored a book called My Stolen Son: The Nick Markowitz Story
Johnny's father and marijuana supplier; implied he has Mafia connections. John "Jack" Hollywood in real life. Hollywood is Jesse James's father. He was arrested in 2005, the same day son Jesse James was captured in Brazil, for manufacturing 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] Has since been released.
Friend of Frankie who digs Zack's grave but is not present for the murder. Graham Pressley in real life. In July 2002, he was tried as a minor and 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.
Friend of Frankie's who is concerned about Zack's well-being. Natasha Adams-Young in real life. 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; he in turn called police. Age 19 at the time.
Member of the gang. Brian Affronti in real life. Affronti joined Hollywood and the crew minutes after they had kidnapped Nick. 20 years old at the time.
Member of the gang; muscle of the group. William Skidmore in real life. 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.[7]
Johnny's girlfriend. Michelle Lasher in real life. Hollywood's girlfriend. She was arrested while on the run with him and charged with harboring a fugitive. 19 years old at the time.
Zack's girlfriend. Jeanine in real life. Nick's girlfriend. 17 years old at the time.
A member of the gang whose car was used in the murder. Casey Sheehan in real life. Sheehan was one of Hollywood's friend. His vehicle was used in the murder of Nick Markowitz. Arrested, then bailed out; 20 years old at the time.
Johnny's childhood friend who drives him back to Los Angeles after he escapes the police in New Mexico. Chas Saulsbury in real life. Saulsbury was one of Hollywood's friend. Last met during junior high; tried to help Hollywood get out of the country. Arrested for harboring a fugitive.
Jake's girlfriend, waitress at a steakhouse. Benjamin "Ben" Markowitz's fiancée.
Johnny's godfather. Implied he has connections to the Mafia. Jon Roberts in real life. Roberts was a Hollywood family close friend. His van was used in the kidnapping of Nick Markowitz.
Zack and Jake's father. Jeff Markowitz in real life. Markowitz was Nick and Ben Markowitz's father.
Frankie's girlfriend. Kelly Carpenter in real life. Carpenter was given immunity in exchange for testimony, Rugge's girlfriend; 16 at the time.
Police officer. Was the officer looking for Hollywood; he arrested the crew as well as interviewed witnesses
A friend of Julie who hooked up with Zack.

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 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.[8][9] The California Supreme Court subsequently reversed that holding,[10][11] 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.[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, 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.[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]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B-" on an A+ to F scale.[18]

Markowitz family reaction[edit]

Susan Markowitz attempted suicide three times.[19] 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?"[20] Nonetheless, both Susan and Jeff Markowitz 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).[19]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Boston Society of Film Critics Awards 2007
2nd place

BSFC Award

Best Supporting Actor

Ben Foster
For 3:10 to Yuma

MTV Movie Awards 2007

MTV Movie Award

Breakthrough Performance

Justin Timberlake

Teen Choice Awards 2007

Teen Choice Award

Choice Movie: Breakout Male

Justin Timberlake
For Black Snake Moan

Young Hollywood Awards 2006

Young Hollywood Award

Breakthrough Performance - Male

Ben Foster

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


Alpha Dog
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
ReleasedJanuary 9, 2007 (2007-01-09)
ProducerAaron Zigman

A soundtrack was released by Milan Records on January 9, 2007.[22][23]

  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 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)" (PDF). Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  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". Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  16. ^ "Alpha Dog". Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  17. ^ "Donnie Darko - Richard Kelly Interview". Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  18. ^ "CinemaScore".
  19. ^ a b Gaby Wood, "Shooting stars", The Observer, April 1, 2007
  20. ^ "'Alpha Dog' Victim's Mother Attempts Suicide". 2007-01-07.
  21. ^ "Alpha Dog (2007) - Financial Information". Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  22. ^ "Alpha Dog soundtrack information at Milan Records". Archived from the original on August 14, 2009. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  23. ^ Alpha Dog soundtrack information at AllMusic

External links[edit]