Film Review: Dog
Directors: Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin
In Theatres: 02.18
Sandwiched between the standard fare of advertisements for the latest Marvel offerings, video game IP and Gal Gadot, Dog‘s trailer felt wholesomely unique with its furry lead and light, comedic tone. The trailer promised lots of laughs alongside a touching story about man’s best friend and featured a clip of Co-director and lead Tatum bathing with his canine counterpart (soundtracked, incredibly, to The Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden”), perhaps a little something for the crowd still hanging onto Tatum as a proper heartthrob—I was hooked.
On its surface, Dog plays out as a typical road comedy following Army Ranger Jackson Briggs (Tatum) as he transports his recently deceased friend’s dog, Lulu, to the latter’s funeral at the request of the family. Lulu’s crazy and violent, time is running out, Jackson only begrudgingly accepted the task to trade favors with a Commanding Officer from whom he needs a recommendation to continue his service—hijinks ensue, etc. The first hour or so plays up the physical, gag-oriented comedy to (mostly) great effect, peppering in seeds of sociopolitical commentary that it explores more fully, if in its emotional final act.
Dog aims its humor at an audience who regularly says things like “you can’t even joke about XYZ anymore,” lambasting the internet-speak of the contemporary left (a woman turns Jackson down because of his “white savior complex”) while delivering its own groan-worthy turns of phrase, as when a cop (Bill Burr) refers to the contemporary social climate as “Woke-ing Class America.” At its most playful, the film does achieve stilted, breezy satire. Encounters with hyper–new age tantric sex gurus and aging, isolated pot farmers accomplish Dog’s goal of poking fun at the left while still retaining its premiere quality of human pathos. In these moments, Dog asserts (with a little naïveté) that everyone bleeds the same red, and honest, open conversation can connect us all.
Some of the more discomforting moments, like an extended sequence in an upscale hotel that starts in poor taste and ends in one of the film’s most stomach-churning bits, introduce the film’s greatest hurdles as it stumbles to hold firmly on to who or what it’s critiquing/victimizing/supporting. Ostensibly a film about masculinity, grief, post-traumatic stress and recovery, these themes only grow more convoluted, complicated and contradictory as Dog progresses. The film openly grapples with the high rates of mental health problems, drug abuse and homelessness among veterans, as well as the often contradictory nature of America’s militaristic philosophies and law enforcement practices. The film frequently plays up the “cost of being a hero” trope, positing that a little love and tenderness—and honest, open conversation—can provide the best medicine in the face of brave sacrifice. It stops short of a fully structural analysis of the sources behind Jackson and Lulu’s external and internal struggles, but it’s hard not to walk away from Dog with a pretty sour view about the hand often dealt to American veterans and the inherent corruption in police and military institutions.
Dog finds its most successful and cohesive emotional core in this mutually hesitant relationship between Jackson and Lulu. The moments focused on the core pair feel the most genuine and rewarding, ironically delivering its most human relationship with one-sided dialogue and an incredible performance from Lulu. As they near the funeral and Lulu’s end drawers closer (she’s been labeled far too violent to be saved and is sentenced to be put down after the funeral), the connection grows into a friendship founded on undying support and love. A night in an abandoned work shed during a rain storm delivers the film’s most emotive scene, Jackson and Lulu fully acknowledging each other’s pains and pasts while bonding over the film’s first real moment of contemplative quiet.
Dog delivered on its base promises of a goofy, heartfelt time and made me laugh and cry more than many a recent blockbuster. It also ballooned and spiraled into something else entirely, fumbled its attempts at having a proper message and doled out some limbo-bar low punches along the way (for what it’s worth, the filmmakers would likely be all too pleased to have ruffled my feathers in this way). Whatever its intentions, though, Dog provides a messy, thought-provoking look at contemporary American society and the long after effects on the country’s military exploits, both at home and abroad. –Audrey Lockie