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Timberlake’s ‘Alpha Dog’ to close Sundance

Pop star plays a drug dealer's lieutenent in this Nick Cassavetes film
/ Source: Reuters

The Sundance Film Festival Friday headed toward the showing of its first closing-night film, the gritty, drug-dealing drama “Alpha Dog,” starring pop idol Justin Timberlake as a good guy whose life goes horribly wrong.

Timberlake, better known to the public for his recording career and a romance with actress Cameron Diaz than for his acting, says his film is the perfect movie to end the festival because it “tackles real issues in a real way.”

Timberlake also may be a reason why the streets of Park City are still crowded with tourists and festival-goers just a day before Sundance ends Saturday with the presentation of awards for the best entries at the leading U.S. showcase for independent films.

Festival organizers say hotel and restaurant bookings were up about 30 percent from 2005, when 46,000 people attended Sundance.

Timberlake was a member of the 1990s boy band ’N Sync, and his first solo album, 2002’s “Justified,” was a breakaway hit. Now, with his first role in a high-profile movie, he’s moving into acting.

“I’ve always wanted to do it but do it in a way I thought was the right way,” he said. “When we sat down to talk about ‘Alpha Dog,’... I was like, wow, now this is something that I could get my hands dirty with and really do some work.”

Timberlake said he had been offered dozens of romantic comedies or slapstick films only because he had shown a flair for comedy on television in shows like “Saturday Night Live.”

“Alpha Dog” is exactly the opposite and gave him a chance to show a more serious side of himself.

The drama is based on a real story about suburban boys who stray into dope dealing and it comments on parents who fail to take an active role in their children’s lives.

Cassavetes at the helm“Alpha Dog” was written and directed by Nick Cassavetes whose career has crisscrossed from major Hollywood movies to the type of low budget, art house films that play at Sundance.

Sitting in the same interview, Cassavetes, the son of pioneering U.S. film director John Cassavetes, told Reuters that when he first met Timberlake to discuss a role in his 2004 romance, “The Notebook,” he knew of Timberlake’s career but wasn’t familiar with his music.

“I look at actors and I want to know if they can talk about their character and will they work hard,” Cassavetes said. “If they can do that, I know we are going to be all right.”

Timberlake turned down the weepy “Notebook” but was ready to go when Cassavetes called for “Alpha Dog.”

The hard-hitting film also includes Hollywood A-list stars like Bruce Willis and Sharon Stone, as well as some up-and-coming stars of young Hollywood like Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Anton Yelchin.

The relationship between Timberlake’s 20-something character, Frankie, and Yelchin’s 15-year-old Zack is key to the story and leads to the movie’s pivotal moment.

Frankie is a lieutenant in dope dealer Johnny Truelove’s (Hirsch) crew. When a drug deal with a Truelove rival goes bad, Frankie helps kidnap Zack. They develop a brotherly relationship that complicates the events that follow.

Timberlake and Yelchin said they developed a friendship off-screen that heightens the tension on-screen.

“Everything that was going on in the film was so heavy but my character does look up to him and it’s nice to be on set with an actor who you like as a person,” Yelchin said.

Timberlake called “Alpha Dog” a perfect film to close Sundance.

“At a festival for independent films, you can tackle more issues in a real way,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about things you have to worry about with big-budget studio film and that’s why it’s appropriate.”