Film review: ‘DOG’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’
Talk about tempting fate with a movie title. Thankfully, this story of the uneasy friendship between a US army Ranger who served in Afghanistan before being discharged on medical grounds and a ferocious military dog is my no means a dog but it often struggles to deliver a convincing story.
Channing Tatum (who co-directed with Reid Carolin) plays war veteran, Jackson Briggs who was relieved of duty due to head trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Now working in a menial food service role where he’s belittled by purple-haired hipsters, he’s desperate to reconnect with his old unit in any capacity. The only opportunity arrives in the form of a job transporting a now-deceased former colleague’s fearsome Belgian Malinois named Lulu across America to his funeral (Lulu doesn’t like planes). Taking a fierce, skittish and apparently traumatised dog such as Lulu on a long road trip soon proves no easy feat for the already troubled Jackson.
This is a more unusual film than we might have expected from the trailer and in large part because it suffers from tonal confusion. Is this meant to be a quirky adorable animal/human buddy movie or a sobering examination of the status of injured and traumatised war veterans? This awkward and uncertain mix of elements persists throughout the film meaning that we feel uneasy laughing at the more ridiculous moments when Lulu plays up and chews the hell out of everything in sight but also find it hard to completely accept its more serious sequences.
The film also treads uneasy ground in its approach to America’s role in recent conflicts like Afghanistan. While it doesn’t overtly celebrate America’s participation, it only briefly questions it (this is mostly by women who are somewhat dismissively depicted as stridently ‘woke’) and doesn’t acknowledge the impact on citizens of those countries. At one point Briggs delivers a line about murder that might have been intended as defensive gallows humour but lands with a nasty thud. This isn’t flat-out US military propaganda, though, as it does question the level of support offered veterans damaged by war.
In its early stages, the film leans more toward comedy but with only minor success. It attempts to squeeze some humour out of the simple, no-nonsense, good-hearted Briggs finding himself a fish out of water amid the distinct (and stereotyped) culture of places like supposed flaky hipster central, Portland Oregon with its with its counter-culture, micro-breweries and political correctness. This generally falls flat as both comedy and an attempt to assert Brigg’s simple American values and at one point threatens audiences with the frightening prospect of having to watch Mr Tatum in a tantric threesome.
The film also takes odd diversions such as a Deliverance/ Pulp Fiction-like sequence where Tatum finds himself captured and tied up by a large hillbilly who says he’s going to make him squeal. For those thinking of taking animal loving youngsters to this film, it should be pointed out that this sequence doesn’t play out in quite the same fashion as those other films. There is, in fact, very little violence in this film.
Channing Tatum is reasonably solid in the role of Briggs and while not dislikeable, he doesn’t elicit the pathos needed to endear Briggs to us or to give his plight emotional force. It would be hard, though, not to feel affection for our four-legged friend Lulu. The dog trainers on this film definitely earned every scent as they had Lulu exhibit a remarkable range of behaviours and emotions. A scene in which she curls up beneath a picture of her former handler is surprisingly affecting. The film also features an excellent soundtrack with Alabama Shakes, My Morning Jacket, Kenny Rogers, and Sturgill Simpson among others.
This may not quite be the film dog lovers would hope for and it’s not the adorable comedy some might have gleaned from the trailer but Tatum and Carolin direct competently and gives the film just enough warmth to counter the bad taste of some of its more questionable moments.
Genre: Drama/ comedy.
Director(s): Channing Tatum & Reid Carolin.
Release date: 17th Mar 2022.
Running time: 101 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show