Dogman : Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on March 29, 2024 in / No Comments

 

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Briarcliff Entertainment, EuropaCorp, DogmanThe best that can be said about Luc Besson’s Dogman is that it keeps your attention. Starting in medias res and looping back from past to present, at least there’s enough there to make you want to see what happens next. Now, whether you can hang with weirdness for weirdness’ sake and veer wildly along with anti-hero Douglas (Caleb Landry Jones) while he makes his broken life as whole as he can, that’s entirely subjective.

Besson – directing a self-written screenplay – wants us to get behind our man Douglas, seen in the opening moments arrested while driving a truck full of dogs. Questioned by police psychiatrist Evelyn (Jojo T. Gibbs), he unfolds a tale of how everyone who’s supposed to care about him has abandoned or abused him. The only constant in his life has been the loyalty of dogs, all of whom mysteriously understand his every word, head nod, and gesture.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Briarcliff Entertainment, EuropaCorp, DogmanCaleb Landry Jones gives Douglas a mutedly impish quality; excepting one scene, he speaks softly and never raises his voice in anger or fear, not even when staring down the barrel of an assailant’s gun. He plays Douglas as someone crushed under life’s heel but never giving into despair, which informs the detachment Jones wields to keep Douglas separate from – one might say above – every one of his screen opposites. Whether psychiatrist, drag queen, gangster, or otherwise, those who cross him get the same “looking down his nose” treatment as he evaluates every situation and person therein.

It’s a far kinder treatment than that of his youth, during which Mike starves him and relegates him to a dog kennel as punishment for being compassionate. These early scenes define his later demeanor, mentally and physically handicapped by abuse and a shotgun blast ripping into his spine. Being wheelchair-bound with limited mobility (his spinal injury will kill him if he walks too much) and living in a world unkind to the disabled, he turns to different avenues to keep his life together – dog pound attendant, drag cabaret performer, and somehow training his dogs to be thieves.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Briarcliff Entertainment, EuropaCorp, DogmanBesson asks us to accept the impossible, handwaving away concerns with Douglas telling Evelyn that “(The dogs) understand every word I say,” following that up with a scene featuring the dogs getting the exact ingredients for a cake at his command. There’s a playfulness to Besson’s work that starts to make the viewer question: Is this a drama or a black comedy we’re watching? While there are sequences that support the latter, the interview sequences – which attempt a sort-of The Silence of the Lambs-esque edge, only told straightforward and truthful, without the anagrams, riddles, and quid pro quo – try to define the film as being more serious than it is.

The black comedy shown in flashbacks varies from “slight” to “holy crap, did that just happen?”, seeing Besson’s sense of humor flailing to land. Granted, it’s not meant for slapstick or yuks, but the chaos that seems to rule Douglas’ life and how quickly he must gain the upper hand on it comes off as funny. Note the whole sequence where, as a child, he sends one of his puppies to find any nearby police car… with his shot-off finger in a Ziploc. And the whole notion of this man being able to form a small criminal enterprise with his dogs as his caporegimes and soldatos alone is somewhat laughable.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Briarcliff Entertainment, EuropaCorp, DogmanBut even though Besson treats it as serious as a heart attack, there’s still an ungainly tone being struck with Dogman because of how much surface-level pap he throws at us. There’s a little bit made of religion and the misuse of God as a weapon of punishment and high expectations, but it doesn’t quite stick. A dabble of romance pokes its head in because Evelyn supposes it must, included for the sake of maybe defining Douglas’ sexuality. Some mention is made of Douglas running a protection scheme in exchange for free laundry or other in-kind trade, but it doesn’t matter. Douglas believing that his thievery is merely “the redistribution of wealth” seems unfounded, rooted in nothing that comes before the first time he says it. Even a small exposition of Evelyn’s personal life is brought to bear, but it’s half-baked and shoved in almost perfunctorily to try to make us care about her.

Luc Besson wants us to follow all these superficial tracks that have led Douglas to where he currently sits in front of Evelyn, but it’s like skipping a rock. We bounce rapidly until the momentum is lost, and by that time, we’ve almost given up on how we got there. Even the guns-blazing climax that dovetails into the film’s beginning seems unsure of what movie it’s supposed to be in. Caleb Landry Jones puts on a good show and keeps us hanging on, but only just; the rest of Dogman is an exercise in throwing everything at the wall, with little of it succeeding and staying.

Rated R by the MPA for violent content, language and brief drug use. Running time: 114 minutes. Released by Briarcliff Entertainment.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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