US, 2006,122 minutes, Colour.
Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Ben Foster, Vincent Kartheiser, Shawn Hatosey, Amanda Seyfried, Olivia Wilde, Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, Harry Dean Stanton, Lukas Haas, Amber Heard, Dominique Swain.
Directed by Nick Cassavetes.
Based on a true story. In fact, there were legal difficulties during 2006 and the film was shelved for some time. The central character had been on the Most Wanted list (the youngest) since 1999 and was discovered in Paraguay in October 2005. Lawyers claimed that the film would prejudice his chances of getting a fair trial. Well, looking at the film, we see he is certainly guilty.
Watching the film is often a very unpleasant experience so unpleasant are practically all the characters. Who would really want to spend time with these young men and women of Los Angeles, all part of the drug culture, often with affluent families, who pass a lot of time in their real lives and in the first part of the film, partying, drugging and drinking – with an incessantly expletive vocab? The rationale is that this is what they were like and, if we are going to understand their world, we have to be immersed in it, albeit in the comfort of our cinema seats.
When the film goes into action, re-creating the actual events of the abduction of the 15 year old brother of a really strung-out and violent addict and dealer, we experience a cumulative sense of menace as the boy (who is indulging in and enjoying the partying, drugs and sex aspects of his kidnapping) moves unwittingly towards his death.
Emile Hirsch (the deceitful boy in The Emperor’s Club) is Johnny Truelove (in fact his real name was, believe it or not, Jesse James Hollywood – maybe destined to his life of crime), who wheels and deals in drugs and money, has a loyal following of hangers-on and who has virtually been set up in business by his father (played by Bruce Willis). His friends include Justin Timberlake in a crucial role and with a fine performance and Shawn Hatosy as the most servile and dangerous of the friends.
But, one of the main points being made by the film as we watch Johnny and his swagger, his hold over his gang, his demands and the abduction of the boy, is that he may be seen as the Alpha Dog but he is a really weak character, frightened without his backup, sexually impotent and no brainwave at all. These young men are really quite dumb with their violent behaviour and reliance on drugs and drink, which is a peer pressure way of trying to deal with the fact that they are not all that bright. And it has disastrous results.
The performances, apart from Hirsch who stays rather low-key and slow, are often frantic, erupting performances, especially Ben Foster as the dealer who causes all the trouble. Anton Yelchin, who has appeared in many television series and telemovies, is impressive as the abducted boy. In the background are Harry Dean Stanton as on old barfly and Sharon Stone as the boy’s mother.
Depressing when you think of how the characters take this kind of dead-end life for granted and as the real thing.
1. A film about young people, Americans, Californians, idle? The world of crime? The world of drugs? Issues of moral responsibility? Adults and responsibility?
2. California in 1999, lifestyle, affluence, poorer people? The range of homes? The streets? Bars? Countryside, the quarry? The musical score?
3. The cast, the young and the old?
4. The screenplay, based on a true story, changing the names, yet giving the times, the dates (diary and a touch of documentary realism? The range of witnesses? The build-up?
5. The title, who was the Alpha dog, Johnny, his failure as an Alpha dog, the others?
6. Introduction, Johnny’s father, the situation, parenting, the drugs, his attitude, his attitude towards his son, Cosmo and his support, seeing Johnny favourably? Johnny as spoilt? His expectations, presumptions about the world, his angers? His violence? Threats to his leadership? Escaping, the end and his capture?
7. Johnny, Emile Hirsch and his performance? Height, Alpha dog, his control, his father and home, his assistance, the taunts? Elvis and his
subservience to him? Frankie, the girls, Jake and the cash, the fights, anger, the idea of abducting Zach, not doing it himself, Frankie and the abduction, Pick and the house, his keeping away, the phone calls? Jake in the house, his hiding and cowardice? The ring? Elvis and his motives? Frankie and his weakness? Hiding, the aftermath, Johnny changing his hair – and the girl’s reaction, impotent, going to Paraguay? Character of moral irresponsibility?
8. Frankie and his help, his life, relationship with Sue, his nerves, friendly, the abduction, his liking Zach, helping, finally not, allowing him to die?
9. Jake, his parents, the tensions, his mother’s love, his father’s harshness, wanting to borrow money, Zach, his being a favourite, emulating Jake? The angers, the fighting Johnny’s house? His lies, parents, psychiatrist, finding Zach?
10. Zach, his age, place in the household, admiring Jake, going out, the drugs, anger at his parents, their anger at him, the outburst? Frankie, Pick in the house? His life, drugs, the girls, the pool and naked, the television, his reassurances, overcoming his fear, the drive, the quarry, the grave, and his death?
11. The callousness, the fear about Zach’s death, cowardice, Elvis and his taunting, the issue of homosexuality, proving himself? Johnny and his attitude? The fear of life in prison and his taunting Frankie? Frankie and Pick, the shooting, fear, running?
12. The arrests, the paper and Frankie, the trap for Johnny, taking Frankie, Pick, the escape?
13. The girls, hanging on, the groupies, the rage, drugs, sexuality, Zach, Julie, Sue and her relationships, anger, the others?
14. The final information, the sentence, Johnny in Paraguay?
15. Bruce Willis and his portrayal of the father, Sharon Stone and the mother? The portrait of individuals, society, judgement on them?