CATEGORIES Drama, Sundance, Universal, Celebrities and Controversy, Distribution, Newsstand, Movie Marketing, Politics, Movie News, Sundance Film Festival, CinematicalI knew I should have caught Alpha Dog at Sundance. If it feels like we've reported more on the controversy surrounding the film than on the film itself, well, we probably have. While the movie was filming, Jesse James Hollywood, otherwise solid citizen who just happened --oops! -- to end up on the FBIs Most Wanted List as the suspected ringleader in the kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz, was tracked down in Brazil. Hollywood is fictitiously portrayed in the film by Emile Hirsh. Hollywood, living up to his name, promptly made headlines for considering legal action to stop the film's distribution on the grounds that it might portray him in a negative light. I don't know about you, but I hate it when I kidnap and murder someone and then people take that the wrong way.
Then there was the whole drama around distrib, with New Line wanting to roll the film out slowly, and director Nick Cassavetes wanting the big-time treatment any film starring Justin Timberlake surely deserves, and taking the film to Universal instead. Now, just a little over a week after the full trailer for the film was released, comes word that one of Hollywood's attorneys last Friday filed a lawsuit against Universal in federal court, seeking a court order that the film not be released until after Hollywood's trial.
The suit raises interesting legal questions, pitting Hollywood's right to a fair trial squarely against the First Amendment. Lawyers of murder defendants have tried unsuccessfully in the past to block made-for-television films from airing before their client's trials. Heck, you'd think Hollywood would be grateful -- O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers only had made-for-tv movies to complain about; his is getting a theatrical release starring a former boy-band frontman. Geez. Hollywood's attorney, James Blatt, says, "I've seen this movie, and it depicts Mr. Hollywood in an extremely negative light." Well, duh. Would you expect a film about the murder and kidnapping of a teenager to portray the alleged bad guys as misunderstood Boy Scouts? Hollywood and his attorney might worry more about the actual quality of the film -- it didn't get glowing reviews at Sundance.
What do you think about all this controversy around Alpha Dog? Does it make you want to see the film that much more? Chances are good you'll still get to see it in early 2007; it's pretty unlikely that a federal judge is going to block it. But how do you feel about movies being made about murder cases that haven't gone to trial yet? If Alpha Dog does, in fact, create the impression that Hollywood isn't a good guy, is that unfairly judging him before his trial, effectively painting him as guilty without benefit of a trial?