The appropriately named Dog follows Briggs, a former US Army Ranger with a brain injury, who in exchange for a recommendation from his former captain is tasked with driving Lulu, an extremely hostile military working dog, first to her former handler’s funeral, and then to an army base to be put down. Hijinks ensue. But is it good?
It’s a film about a dog, why are you asking questions? Go watch it.
Ok fine, I understand that’s not enough of a reason for everyone. You care about things besides whether or not there’s a very good pupperina on screen. I don’t agree, but I’ll accommodate.
Dog is a lovely movie, no doubt about it. Channing Tatum probably secretes charm out of a kind of gland in his body like some kind of charisma-skunk, and it turns out his skills extend to directing as well. Despite the potentially charged subject matter, Tatum and writer/co-director Reid Carolin shy away from making moralising or political statements in favour of an engrossing, earnest character study.
Some of the aforementioned hijinks are far superior to others – the weed farmers were a much-needed energizer after the sex therapists for instance. That’s no reflection on the script, which is stellar from start to finish. From Briggs’ failure to be honest and emotionally connect with anyone, to the parallels of Briggs and Lulu’s PTSD, the core themes are expertly laced throughout the film.
The problem is instead more one of pacing. On a micro level, the lines in the more comedic scenes are delivered just a beat too slowly to prevent them from becoming tedious, and on a macro level there’s perhaps too many of these detours. I feel like you would get the point and still feel as strongly at the ending if you cut one or two of them out.
Dog shies away from a critical look at the treatment of US veterans, or the lasting sentiments of war in the Middle East. It takes aim at left and right alike, but without any particular bite or wit. The only unabashedly sympathetic group are the Rangers, but ultimately this works in the film’s favour, tying in with Briggs’ inability to connect with civilians.
For every time it beats you over the head with a two-dimensional side character, there’s some fantastically subtle storytelling that actually trusts the viewer to draw conclusions on visuals alone. It’s something that’s becoming increasingly rare in wide-release cinema, so Dog has my highest praise in that regard.
It would be amiss of me to go without talking about the dog, so I’ll simply say that Lulu is great, and the funniest character by far. The filmmakers struck a great balance, creating a quirky personality without becoming cartoonish. The key question though: does the dog die?
We’ve all been hurt before by one of these dead dog movies, and the anxiety is high throughout the entirety of Dog, given that the whole point is to take Lulu to somewhere she’ll be put down. I know plenty of people that have decided whether to see a film based purely on whether a dog dies in it, so you can highlight the white text at the bottom of this review to find out.
All in all, Dog is an extremely touching and well-shot road trip film. While it’s not going to win any awards or show anything you haven’t seen in some form elsewhere, it’s absolutely worth going along for the journey.
Spoiler: The dog lives.