Friday, April 19, 2024

“DOGMAN”

THE STORY – As a child, Douglas was abused by a violent father who then threw him to the dogs. Instead of attacking him, the dogs protected him. Traumatised and leading a life on the margins of society with his dogs, Douglas descends into a murderous madness.

THE CAST – Caleb Landry Jones, Jojo T. Gibbs, Christopher Denham & Grace Palma

THE TEAM – Luc Besson (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 114 Minutes


Police surround a truck pulled over to the side of the road. In the driver’s cab is a clearly injured Doug (Caleb Landry Jones), a young man dressed as Marilyn Monroe and smoking an extra-thin cigarette. Puzzled, the cops open the back of the truck and find themselves facing several dozen dogs, ready to pounce. Clearly, Doug has a story to tell.

So begins “Dogman,” the first film by French writer/director Luc Besson in five years. Absent from the filmmaking scene since being accused of and cleared of sexual assault charges, Besson has returned with a film that plays both to his strengths — his fascination with society’s outcasts who are simply trying to find a place in the world — and his weaknesses — an over-reliance on violence as the ultimate answer to virtually any narrative.

“Dogman,” which premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival, is structured as a frame story. Doug, now out of drag and in custody, sits across a table from psychiatrist Dr. Evelyn Decker (an underused Jojo T. Gibbs), who has been asked to evaluate Doug’s mental state. Based on several personal details that Evelyn has chosen to reveal, Doug recognizes her as another damaged soul and decides to open up to her.

What follows is Doug’s tale of a harrowing childhood in which he was abandoned by his mother and terrorized by a father who trained canines for dogfighting by starving them. When young Doug (Lincoln Powell) lets it slip that he gets more love from the dogs than his family, his father throws the boy into the cage where he grows up being locked in with the dogs. A ricocheting bullet later paralyzes the boy, and it is only when he is finally rescued by the police that he perceives a chance at a normal life. He must race the reality, however, that his disability will prove to be an obstacle in getting a job, and his single offer of employment comes from a local drag show. Facing the world alone and being bound to a wheelchair creates a psychological barrier that Doug can’t quite overcome. All he has are his dogs.

Landry Jones is an actor who has developed a reputation for going all-in on his roles — whether they be supporting (“Get Out” & “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri“) or lead (“Nitram“) — but he has never had a character with quite the challenges that Doug offers. Retelling his story with the hesitancy of someone who has been victimized all his life, Landry Jones simultaneously embraces the character’s physicality, from how he moves into his wheelchair each day to the ritual of taking the braces off his legs every night. Most revealing is the joy that he exudes when he is allowed to become someone else, whether it be a character in a Shakespeare play or a legendary diva at a drag show. Standing up at a mic, that release manifests in his exquisite lip-sync to Edith Piaf’s “La Foule,” a tour-de-force that makes for the most thrilling three minutes in the film.

Until then, “Dogman” was making good on its promise to portray how a victim of abuse sets out to regain control of his life. But then, perhaps inevitably, the bad Luc Besson takes over, and his script suddenly swerves to become (what else?) an action crime thriller. When Doug, needing more cash, starts training his dogs to sneak into mansions to steal the owner’s jewelry, a sinking feeling sets in that we’re irretrievably losing what had previously made “Dogman” so special. Indeed, by the time we get to the final shootout — when pissed-off Latino gangsters descend on Doug’s makeshift home, guns a-blazing — all is pretty much lost. The true nadir comes when we see that Doug has booby-trapped his place — just how a man in a wheelchair could hoist up the rigging necessary for some of the traps is never entirely explained — and the film’s tone descends from a sensitive character study to that of a Warner Bros. cartoon (Given all the booby-traps, you half expect that Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern will somehow show up). And when it all ends melodramatically in the shadow of a giant Catholic crucifix, you can do little more than shake your head at what might have been.

I have little doubt that the film’s shoot-em-up finale — the very scenes that sink the film creatively — will be the ones that will be used to help lure audiences into seeing “Dogman.” After all, who can resist a crowd of dogs bravely defending their owner in a wheelchair (even if their owner wields a shotgun while wearing a lovely pink gown)? “Dogman” may be a case of the right film but the wrong director, but even as it fails to work on the whole, it still provides a few moments that will linger in my mind for some time to come. Thanks to Caleb Landry Jones, I, for one, will never listen to Edith Piaf the same way ever again.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - With a high-wire performance by Caleb Landry Jones at its center, Luc Besson's latest is, at its best, a moving portrait of how an abused soul can rise above his tormented childhood memories to find his own station in life.

THE BAD - Unfortunately, the film's final act descends into another familiar Besson over-the-top shoot-em-up, with the film's tone sinking from a sensitive character study to that of a Warner Bros. cartoon.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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Tom O'Brien
Tom O'Brienhttps://nextbestpicture.com
Palm Springs Blogger and Awards lover. Editor at Exact Change & contributing writer for Gold Derby.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>With a high-wire performance by Caleb Landry Jones at its center, Luc Besson's latest is, at its best, a moving portrait of how an abused soul can rise above his tormented childhood memories to find his own station in life.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Unfortunately, the film's final act descends into another familiar Besson over-the-top shoot-em-up, with the film's tone sinking from a sensitive character study to that of a Warner Bros. cartoon.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"DOGMAN"