When a movie involving a dog as one of it’s lead characters makes it obvious throughout it’s marketing campaign that you shouldn’t worry because – ‘the dog doesn’t die’ – it’s understandable that you would expect an all out comedy full of wacky hijinks and silly slapstick. And while Dog does have it’s laughs throughout, there is a deeper, sombre tone underneath the surface that sheds a light on the treatment of military veterans in the United States, and the demons they face when adjusting to life outside of war.
Co-directed by and starring Channing Tatum as Jackson Briggs, a retired Army Ranger who can’t return to service due to too many concussions and injuries after his service, even though the idea of getting back into the military is the only thing pushing him through endless days of working in a sandwich shop and drinking excessively. Briggs also suffers from PTSD, often waking up delusional in the night with cold sweats and in more extreme cases, having seizures.
Hassling his commanding officer to pass his medical clearance when a job offer arises, Briggs is offered an ultimatum, when a fellow soldier and friend tragically dies in a car accident. Briggs must transport his fallen soldiers K9, a lethal-military trained killer named Lulu, to the funeral service taking place in a couple of days, all the way across the country. Unable to get fully acquainted with each other at first, Briggs and Lulu take a road trip which is full of law-breaking, near-death experiences and other crazy shenanigans that will test the bond that is slowly being formed between them.
Dog’s greatest strength is it’s charm. It’s impossible not to fall completely in love with Lulu, who undoubtedly steals the show. It’s strange to put in words, but the sympathy that can be felt for a dog who has lost it’s owner has never been portrayed so well on screen. Every moment that Lulu has a barking-filled outburst or crashes out of her confinements to find her long-lost friend is a moment that fills this film with an heart-warming tone that is consistent throughout the runtime. There is also an array of physically comedic moments with Lulu that alleviate a lot of the films more realistic and dramatic plot points.
Tatum really gets to show off his ability to carry a movie in Dog, as he is predominately talking to no-one throughout the film (or at least, no-one is responding to his dialogue). Many scenes of Tatum and his canine companion involve driving to their next location, and Tatum’s Briggs just pleading with Lulu to begin behaving, or at least meet Briggs halfway so they can both make it to this funeral on time… and alive. Tatum’s comedic timing in these moments provide many laughs, but it’s his more intense and serious scenes in which he really gets to shine. Tatum’s nuance as a soldier who is truly suffering never leaves the movie, it’s always bubbling under the surface, even in the film’s more light-hearted scenes. Dog does an incredible job at being a voice for a group of people (US Army veterans) who have been pushed to the wayside for decades.
There is a scene in Dog, in which to get a room in a hotel for a night, Briggs pretends to be a blind veteran and puts a Purple Heart medal on Lulu. While this moment is played out slightly more comedically, it’s impossible to not stop and realise the lengths that a man who was shot in war, and has had his mental health uprooted because of what he endured, has to do in order to find shelter for one night. At it’s core, this is the message the Dog is preaching, and it hits incredibly hard, just like it rightfully should. The best thing this movie also did though, was shine it up a little bit with a truly charming narrative happening around it’s core in order to be an enjoyable film.
Channing Tatum has also proven himself as a formidable director. Working alongside long-time collaborator and filmmaker, Reid Carolin (Magic Mike XXL), the two have captured a charming and sweet tone with it’s warm cinematography and intimate looks into the life of a physically and mentally wounded veteran. While at points there amateurism shows in regards to story structure and pacing, their choice to focus on moments and events in the film, rather than a totally cohesive narrative, proves they understand the importance of capturing strong emotions on screen in order to keep an audience invested.
While Dog does occasionally drag in it’s pace due to it’s slightly all-over-the-place narrative, it’s core message which is a cry-out about the treatment of military veterans, that is coated by a truly charming and hilarious tale about the bond between man and dog, makes it a film that will leave you with a big smile on your face once the credits roll!
Dog is in Australian cinemas March 17, courtesy of Roadshow Films.
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