I’m conflicted about Dog. On one hand, the message presented by co-directors Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin is sweet, that will open eyes to a veteran or active duty’s psyche, exploring the relationship a dog can have on a human and vise versa and on the other hand, I wanted more from the film. Tatum and Carolin only touch upon PTSD and it’s effects. For the first time directing duo, Dog feels safe, never exploring the deeper possibilities of the relationship. Only the surface is scratched while a ton of potential is left unexplored. I absolutely think that the story is well executed for what it is I just wanted more of the angle Tatum and Carolin steered the ship in.
Army Ranger Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum) is assigned a mission of escorting a Belgian Malinois working dog named Lulu to attend her handler’s funeral without a hiccup. If he does this one thing, his Briggs’ commanding officer will recommend him for active duty. Briggs reluctantly forms a relationship with Lulu in a way that no one else can because of the trauma Lulu has faced in her life. Misdiagnosed, Lulu is set to be euthanized – she is no longer useful to the Army and she’s too much of a wild card to be cared for by another owner. It isn’t until Briggs and Lulu form an emotional connection through sheer insanity and some slapstick comedic means that they both benefit from being completely alone with one another and dealing with their past traumas.
While Tatum may be the star and co-director of the film, Lulu steals the show. She’s the goodest girl and Carolin’s screenplay doesn’t dismiss that animals aren’t immune to trauma. While Briggs thinks she’s crazy, she’s not, Lulu has anxiety – her previous handler died in a car accident. It isn’t until 3 quarters in that we learn the death was a suicide. War affects even the strongest creatures even the ones who can’t physically speak up. Both Carolin and Tatum do their best at showing when an animal is in distress while also showing what it can look like in human form.
Tatum the actor does rely a little too heavily on his comedic nature with lines written that could be straight from 21 Jump Street, but his heart far outweighs that. The connection Briggs and Lulu form is one many pet owners will feel and come to appreciate especially when an animal can’t say what’s bothering them. Lulu’s connection to her former handler is immediately felt once the two companions arrive at the funeral. As the journey continues, hints at Briggs’ life become more clear that make sense to his nature. He’s had one too many concussions (so we’re told), he isn’t in contact with his 3-year-old daughter but he’s trying to be more involved. Without realizing it, Lulu saves his life. Briggs just has be honest with himself about it.
Most of Dog is one pit stop after the next. Mostly the big cities – Portland, Los Angeles and then their destination. Lulu for the entirety cannot be contained, she is kept in a muzzle for Brigg’s and anyone else’s protection, she’s leashed and when the moment strikes – Lulu can and will escape. That’s what makes this screenplay more intelligent than it lets off – Lulu escaping from Brigg’s is her chance at peace. And Lulu’s peace comes from total strangers, Gus (Kevin Nash) and Tamara (Jane Adams). It’s in this sequence the tone shifts. What starts as controlled chaos is now unpredictable. But it’s also here that Lulu’s edges begin to soften, and Briggs’ tough exterior begins to crack. The two bond like never before.
It’s times like these that I wish domesticated animals could speak. She’s constantly panting, not because she’s thirsty or overheated but because she has anxiety. Her best friend is no longer here. Animals may be a part of our lives for a short period of time but to them we are their entire life. It’s like a parent outliving a child.
The message of PTSD rings loud and clear. We don’t know the horrors anyone is dealing with who have fought for this country well beyond coming home. Briggs suffers from panic attacks, he’s high strung and seeks connections from others that he desperately needs. Every chance he gets he’s proving his worth, that’s why he took this mission of escorting a ranger to a funeral. He needs the fight, without it, Briggs is lost. Though the script portrays one full panic attack and the aftermath of one to set the tone, an opportunity was missed to dive even deeper into Briggs’ psyche. What they did accomplish however, works for the script that will easily translate to those who don’t understand what PTSD can do to a person, so in that regard the point is made.
Tatum the director and Carolin from the beginning make Briggs an easily relatable character to invest the time in. And though Dog’s premise leans more on the predictability of it all, the movie is a bit cookie cutter as far as a buddy film goes – there was no way he would let the Army put Lulu down – their journey together wouldn’t be for nothing.
As an animal lover, Dog will speak to you in a way you understand. An animal is family – all they require is patience and a touch of sympathy. Just as the film is about PTSD in humans, it’s about PTSD with animals. It doesn’t come from the war LULU was in but from losing her best friend and not having anyone fully understand. Lulu is the star of the film from the moment she pops up on screen to the end and becoming a happy dog again – Tatum and Carolin understand what a Dog’s purpose is in our lives.
Written By: Reid Carolin & Brett Rodriguez
Directed By: Reid Carolin & Channing Tatum
Music By: Thomas Newman
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Ethan Suplee, Bill Burr
Release Date: February 18, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 41 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%
My Score: 3 out of 5