Directed: Channing Tatum
Cast: Channing Tatum, Reid Carolin, Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Q’orianka Kilcher and Bill Burr
Released: February 18, 2022 (UK Cinemas)
Dog is a special beast. It is a feel-good film that wears its heart on its sleeve unapologetically without pandering to its audience while confronting trauma within the American middle class, revelling in its Americana aesthetics only to subvert them. Dog is a mainstream trojan horse film, an increasing trend in American cinema, playing to the generic conventions of popular genres, whether that’s the revenge thriller or the dog comedy with some heart, to get audiences in seats, only to have them confront their biases as Americans. In this sense, co-directors Carolin and Tatum, two-thirds of the Magic Mike creative team, have taken a page out of Steven Soderbergh’s playbook, especially in its visuals, while creating a film that feels distinctly theirs in its sincerity, off-beat but always a funny sense of humour and its incisive look at what veterans perceive they are fighting for versus the reality of what their actions bring, both on themselves and the people and country they defend. Even with everything the film has on its mind, Dog is still very much about a man and his dog, the beauty of that bond, and our need to find something or someone to believe in to help us accept who we are and our place in the world. Best experienced with a slice of Apple pie and an open mind, Dog is an ever-rewarding experience whose emotional clarity and impact are earned, dog lover or not.
Following a serious head injury during a tour, Army Ranger Briggs (Tatum) is on suspension, itching to get the approval to get back to work from upper brass; an opportunity which is given to him in the form of taking a combat-trained dog, Lulu, to her owner’s, killed in action, funeral in Arizona. The two meet colourful characters along the way and begin to learn to trust and accept one another as they both struggle with re-initiation into a civilian world and the scars of their trauma. The film goes where you think it will when reading this synopsis, but it is hard to imagine anyone caring when the journey is so damn enjoyable, and the destination is as fulfilling as the path to get there was.
It is a joy to have Channing Tatum back. He’s eye candy with a heart of gold and an actor that carries an air of warmth with such ease. Dog is his best performance because it combines his star appeal, endless charm, and charisma with emotionally and physically demanding scenes that see the actor truly commit to his vision of a broken but not lost, American man looking for any solace from himself. The early stops on the trip are perfectly orchestrated situations based on a comedy of errors and misunderstandings, where Briggs’ and the audiences’ expectations and assertions are flipped, and for the better, Tatum getting to flex his comedy and ability to have on-screen chemistry with just about anyone, and, anything, all in the service of showing Briggs growth, and hopefully getting the audience to grow alongside him.
The interactions between Briggs and Lulu are beautifully honest and never exaggerated for the sake of comedy, Tatum’s inner dog lover shining through, making the infectious quality of our relationships with dogs universal, no matter how frustrating the situation the dog or Briggs creates. When getting towards the end of their journey, Tatum’s earnestness means that whether said or unsaid, his relationship with Lulu is saving him. This is particularly true in one scene in which Briggs has a seizure, Carolin and Tatum never leaving the image of this attack, only for when he comes to in real-time, Lulu is waiting for him. The representation of seizures in mainstream cinema is undeniably rare, and to see it as a result of trauma to be handled with such care and dexterity, coupled with Tatum’s ability as a performer to accurately portray what millions suffer with, as well as the necessity for someone to reach out to in Lulu, is emotionally resonant while also eye-opening.
Ultimately, this is what makes Dog such a treat; it’s a tremendous amount of empathy. From its layered approach to veterans and trauma to be linked to the confrontation of personal and social biases within the United States to its irresistible road trip aesthetic, to its terrific sense of humour, Tatum and Carolin have made a film that earns your tears. Its message about acceptance is one that Tatum and Carolin have explored prior in both Magic Mike films and extends on here, representing men who are emotionally healthy, or at the very least have the capacity to be so, through their complete separation from the idea that masculine men cannot speak about how they feel, and that actually, better bonds are formed when we speak what’s in our mind and our hearts. To link this to survivors of war and trauma while also commenting on the veteran experience while also being a great dog movie. Dog is a film whose sweetness is much needed and appreciated, and I wish studios were willing to make more films like it.
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