Alpha Dog Movie Review

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The Alpha Dog is a movie about a group of related people that were engaged in different levels of criminal activity. In the course of watching this movie as part of the criminology assessment, the characters in this movie facilitated learning on the differential association theory of criminal activity. As such, this movie gives us the illustration on the type of people involved in this movie and tries to prove the existence of truth in the application of this theory in a real-life scenario.

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The movie Alpha Dog concerns a group of characters who are drug dealers at first, and engage in unlikely friendships between themselves. Eventually, when faced with the charge of kidnapping and spending a lifetime in prison, a combination of drug debts and the urge not to go to prison led them to murder one of their own CITATION Sca09 \l 1033 (Scarpitti, Nielsen, & Miller, 2009). As such, this brings up the issue as highlighted in the differential association theory that states that peoples criminal character is built by those whom they associate with most. This theory is much associated with how the individual becomes a criminal as opposed to when they become a criminal. Therefore, the movie gave me the ability to determine the truth of this assertion made in the theory.

Alpha Dog and Wrong Association

The movie constantly shows the association of different people. At the beginning of the movie, two characters are introduced as drug dealers, one of whom is deep in debt. As such, there is the desperation to pay off this debt that is developed throughout the whole move until the end of it. Frankie, who is the character in question for this case study, becomes connected to this group of people by sheer chance in the course of his life. Therefore, he becomes the voice of reason for most of what they do. In fact during the kidnapping, he develops a close friendship with the victim of their crime and severally warns the victim that he needs to run away and avoid the trouble that would be coming to him. Constantly then, the voice of reason remains even as the corruption of staying with the criminals continues. The first symptom of corruption was seen when he agreed to take part in the kidnapping. The point of complete change came about when he was informed of the possibility of going to prison unless they murdered Zack, their victim.

The differential association theory asserts that the person becomes a criminal simply by association with the criminal minds. This is a theory aligned with the notion that bad company will corrupt good morals, if considered in a spiritualist perspective. According to this theory, people can often debate the knowledge they gain through the experiences they go through. After having such experiences, people will make decisions for their future lives that will be a reflection of the lessons learned during previous experiences. This can be taken in the example of employed and unemployed persons. If we have either of both, they will both view life very differently from one another because of the past experiences that influence their present decisions. Therefore, the theory sees the need to abide by the law and that of breaking the law as two items on a balance. When one exceeds the other, then we have the presumption of the succeeding thought as opposed to that of the weaker thought.

This was displayed in the life of Frankie in the movie. In the course of the movie, there was a time when the balance was tilted in favor of abiding by the law. Consider his precaution concerning taking Zack hostage in the first place. Furthermore, he objected to any instance of killing the victim, and even went ahead to forge a friendship with him. In this friendship, Frankie constantly told Zack, albeit subtly, that he needed to leave and save his life. At the end, however, the balance was tilted in favor of law breaking. The constant interactions with law breakers led to his final decision to go ahead with the murder of Zack and thereby become a full-fledged criminal.

Furthermore, Sutherlands theory is based on some major foundations. First, criminal behavior is learned. This was evident in the life of Frankie as he began his interaction with his partners in crime. It began with small-time drug peddling. This was a humble beginning in the echelons of crime in their neighborhood. Thereafter, it escalated to kidnapping and finally murder. The criminal nature was learned by virtue of constant interaction with people who were criminal in nature. As such, he also became a criminal. Secondly, criminal behavior is learned through communication with other criminals. This was the case in Frankies study. Frankies company comprises of Elvis, who is hell-bent on killing Zack; Keith, who is dealing drugs but still doesnt have the courage to commit the murder and Johnny, who is pulling the strings behind Zacks death hit.

Moreover, Sutherland noticed that the integral part of the criminal behavior learning process occurs within intimate personal relationships. In this case, Frankie struck a friendship with the one he was going to kill. There are instances where friends went to parties to have fun, only for them to engage in criminal acts together later. This proves the observation that Sutherland makes concerning relationships and learning criminal behavior. Learning can be done through the showing of techniques of perpetrating the crime, whether complicated or simple. During the murder of Zac, the plan was quite simple. Dig a grave, kill the guy and bury him. This was the method shown to Frankie for the performance of the crime.

In other characteristics of this theory, differential associations are normally variant in their nature so that they dont occur at the same frequency, priority or intensity. Sometimes, the intensity of the association may not be as much. In the case of Frankie, the intensity at the time of the murder was intense because of his fear to go to prison. At other times, this was not the case as he was not obliged to become an accessory to the murder just yet.

In a review of this theory then, most of the characteristics present themselves to be true in the case of Frankie. His associations with the bad company caused the development of the bad habits that eventually culminated with the killing of Zack. The behaviors were learned from his group of friends, who posed the influence into their illegal activities. Social influences thus play a major part in determining the criminal nature of a person.


Scarpitti, F., Nielsen, A., & Miller, J. (2009). A sociological theory of criminal behavior: Crime and Criminals Contemporary and Classic Readings in Criminology. New York: Oxford University Press.

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