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Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007 01:01 am

Lost boys

Cassavetes takes a page out of his old man’s book

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Untitled Document Director Nick Cassavetes has gone to great lengths to distance himself from the work of his father, John. Whereas the elder Cassavetes was known for pioneering an avant-garde sense of realism in his low-budget independent films (Shadows, Faces, Husbands), his son has tackled a wide variety of genres, as if trying to find his footing behind the camera. An adaptation of one of his father’s scripts (She’s So Lovely), a social melodrama (John Q), and a love story that succeeded against the odds (The Notebook) are on his résumé — but none of them bears any resemblance to his latest work, Alpha Dog.
Ironically, this gritty urban drama is the sort of movie Nick’s father might have made were he making films today. Alpha Dog strives to be innovative in telling its tragic tale of a group of lost teens who get swept up in media hype and are forgotten by their preoccupied parents. The story is so compelling, we’re riveted throughout. The hard-edged film is based on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood, a gangsta wannabe among the aimless youth who populate the endless Southern California suburbs. Hollywood’s onscreen counterpart is Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch), a small-time pusher who thinks he’s king of the cul-de-sac. Modeling his life after the outlaw image perpetuated by the rappers they listen to, Truelove and his homeboys ride tough, but they’re just little boys who are perpetually lost. When Truelove fails to repay a debt to a fellow poseur, Jake Marzursky (Ben Foster), and tensions rise between them, he impulsively kidnaps Marzursky’s half-brother Zack (Anton Yelchin) in retribution. From there the film turns into a road trip, both literally and figuratively — and ends in tragedy. The acting here is top-notch, with the young leads showing a degree of vulnerability beneath their tough exteriors that gives the film a tragic tone rather than an exploitive one. Equally good are Bruce Willis as Truelove’s enabling father, Sharon Stone as Zack’s raging mother, and Justin Timberlake, impressive as Johnny’s right-hand man.

Also from Marrit Ingman

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