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There really is an evident division here. If you like Belgian Shepherds and Channing Tatum – particularly when he is topless – you will love this film.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents us with a simple premise: Jackson Briggs is a former US Army Ranger who is tasked to take an unpredictable military dog to its handler’s funeral. Following this initial setup, the film follows an unforgettable, if predictable, road trip narrative owing to its bizarrely situated sequences, including a brief hookup with a pair of tantric sexologists and a shot of a semi-nude Tatum soaping up Lulu the dog in a five-star hotel bathtub. Yes, it may combine with the most predictable, clichéd narrative known to cinematic history, but writer and director Reid Carolin manages to cram into it so many crazy run-ins that you never know what the human-canine duo are due to face next.
An aspect to note is that, through these, we learn much more about Lulu’s backstory than we do about Tatum’s Jackson. Fans of Tatum may be disappointed by his playing second fiddle, but one can’t accuse Carolin of selling the audiences short while his film is appropriately titled Dog.
A facet in which this film does not fall short is its appreciation for realism. Unlike the lazy efforts of Call of the Wild, the film ditches mechanical CGI and sticks to the use of a trained live animal, making shots in which Lulu attacks characters in a controlled arm grab look notably impressive. Following on from this, the script’s attention to detail when referring to both animal behaviour and training is also a strong point. A particular scene in which a pound worker points out that Lulu’s panting is indicative of stress was my favourite example of this. A keen-eyed watcher will recognize this concerning behaviour much earlier on whilst patiently, but very unexpectantly, awaiting confirmation from a diegetic source within the film, something we infrequently – if ever – see from a human-centric narrative. With most big-screen features preferring to anthropomorphize their animal protagonists rather than focus on their species-specific traits, Dog was a breath of fresh air for a Hollywood-style canine movie. It managed to capture something unique and emotive which only a true dog lover will fully appreciate.
There were, of course, weaker elements. The pace was slow in places, and the repetitive, painstaking nature of Jackson’s withdrawn personality clashing with Lulu’s clingy demonstrations of affection sometimes leads us to wonder when we’ll ever be granted some form of relief. Carolin misses out on attempts to hone into the emotion through long periods of unnecessary dialogue, though the script might have been saved had Thomas Newman put more effort into the score. There was a self-conscious toxic masculine undertone and little racial diversity, with only one person of colour featuring – as a victim of Lulu’s bite.
However, Dog redeems itself somewhat in the way it addresses the sensitive topic of PTSD and the devastating effect of war. It is poignant to see how this manifests itself almost identically in both the human and the animal, and how the two veterans of different species come to learn about these similarities whilst supporting each other along the way. This focus pulls hard at the emotional chords, particularly in some tear-jerking scenes at the end of the film. I’ll refrain from putting any spoilers here, so do go and see them for yourself.
Dog currently isn’t on any streaming services but is still available to watch in cinemas.