Alpha Dog

Opens at Meridian and other theaters, Fri., Jan. 12. Rated R. 117 minutes.

Nick Cassavetes, cut loose after tethering himself to the old-fashioned, ham-handed romance of The Notebook, digs his new role as New Journalist. Here, he fictionalizes (just barely) a real-life story that's still waiting for its ending: the 2000 kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz, as so masterminded by a teeny Tony Montana with the real-life moniker of Jesse James Hollywood. Young Nick (called Zack here and played by Anton Yelchin) was sacrificed as the result of his older half-brother's drug debt—a measly $1,200. Four of Hollywood's compadres were convicted of the murder; Hollywood (called Johnny Truelove here, played by Emile Hirsch) escaped to Brazil, where he was arrested in 2005. He now awaits trial. Cassavetes goes the docudrama route, and gets carried away at times—lots of split-screen, in an attempt to make Alpha Dog play like some seedy '70s crime drama—but he can be forgiven his excesses because the guy knows dramatic tension. And, if nothing else, Alpha Dog's worth a look for the performance of Justin Timberlake, the moral center of a movie sorely in need of some conscience. His Frankie, covered in tats, is less a gangsta with a heart of gold than a nice guy capable of doing some very bad shit like every last one of the rabid pups in Alpha Dog. ROBERT WILONSKY

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