‘Alpha Dog’ (2006), written and directed by Nick Cassavetes, is a movie about friendships, drugs, and murder. The film saw its initial release in 2006 for the Sundance Film Festival, followed by a wide release in 2007. The film’s central plot begins with Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch), who supplies drugs to his friends and others. As this business usually goes, he has both friends and others indebted to him. The plot unravels when Johnny decides to kidnap Zack (Anton Yelchin) so that his brother Jake pays Johnny the sum he owes him. Things are well and fun until it isn’t. Legal authorities get involved, Johnny panics, and ultimately, Zack is killed. This is followed by the arrest of Johnny’s friends like Frankie (Justin Timberlake).
The film has received quite a bit of skepticism about its portrayal of ‘kids on drugs’ marathon or the shaky, intrusive manner of delegating the politics of a pot dealer and his friends. To this mist comes the disarray of violence, sex, rap, and a lot more dope. This is not to say that movies dealing with drugs are not received well because there are, of course, ‘Requiem for a Dream’ and ‘Trainspotting’ that leaves you aghast and informed at the same time. The criticism could perhaps be a result of not fleshing out the characters to make them relatable in their actions even though it’s out of one’s immediate realm of experience.
Is Alpha Dog a True Story?
Yes, the film is based on the real-life murder of Nicholas Markowitz. The movie and its many parallels shadow the events that led up to Markowitz’s death. His stepbrother Ben Markowitz owed money to Jesse James Hollywood, a community, sub level drug dealer. Things escalated out of control when Nicholas, seen walking along the road, was kidnapped by Hollywood in a way to get back his money. Though Nicholas initially was initially scared, many eye witness reports confirm that he appeared to be calm and having fun with his kidnappers. He was also seen attending house parties with Hollywood’s friends.
Hollywood supposedly had no intention of harming Nicholas and wanted to let him go home. But the legal consequences, as stated by his friends, spooked Hollywood. As a result, Hollywood called up Ryan Hoyt, a person who owed money to Hollywood to arrange Nicholas’s murder by providing him a gun. Hollywood’s friends walked Nicholas up a trail to an already dug grave where Nicholas was hit on the head with a shovel and shot to death. The body was soon found, which led to the arrests of those involved. Hollywood, who was on the run since the murder, was tracked down after five years in Brazil. Many of these instances are mentioned in the case report which ultimately made its way into the scenes of the film.
‘My Stolen Son: The Nick Markowitz Story’
In 2010, Susan Markowitz, Nicholas’s mother, published a book titled, ‘My Stolen Son: The Nick Markowitz Story.’ She wrote the book along with Jenna Glatzer. The book narrates her journey through grief and pain when she found out about her son, Nicholas’s death. The book received wide attention in the aftermath of what happened. In an interview with CBS News, post the publication of the book, she was asked how close ‘Alpha Dog’ comes to portraying the actual events, to which she said:
“It is as close as they could get without having the rights. There was, of course, the changing of names, cities, etc; I’d give it a solid 90%, the other 10% was “Hollywood-ized.” There were some exaggerations and added scenes for dramatic effect, like the big bar fight scene, which never happened in real life. But the actual storyline, in my opinion, was very close. And Sharon Stone did an excellent job portraying my “rock bottom.” That’s really what it was like.”
Susan Markowitz’s attempt to immortalize her son through this non-fiction novel has been her way of portraying the truth. It also sheds much light on how family members cope with the gruesome death of their loved ones. Hollywood continues to serve his life sentence with no parole.