By the end of every Sundance Film Festival, you see one film – or more than one – where the reaction isn't just against the film, but against the Festival itself: What movie didn't get the chance to debut at the festival because this movie took up a slot in the Premieres Category? For me, this year, that film was Alpha Dog – based on the true tale of a young drug dealer and thug in L.A. who spent five years on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. Written and directed by Nick Cassavetes, Alpha Dog is one in a long line of sun-splashed, kids-in-trouble crime films where a group of young, aimless, drugged-up and violent boys have fun, fun, fun 'till daddy takes their gun away.
Johnny (Emile Hirsch) has a devoted crew of hangers-on and foot soldiers, lifelong friends and flunkies who owe him money; there's also the possibility that Johnny is just a convenient cut-out level of protection for his dad Sonny (Bruce Willis) and the family criminal enterprise. Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) owes Johnny money, and the tit-for-tat provocations and retaliations of trying to figure out how, or if, the debt will be paid culminate in Johnny's boys impulsively picking Jake's little brother Zach (Anton Yelchin) off the street. This isn't just a bad idea: It's a Federal Felony, and Johnny and his right-hand buddy Frankie (Justin Timberlake) are trying to see through their perpetually stoned haze to find an end result for this sequence of events that doesn't leave them dead or in jail.