On paper, a dog movie starring Channing Tatum doesn’t sound much like a must-see film; that crab-apple critic’s expectation proves entirely wrong, and welcome evidence that the sleeper hit can still happen even in 2022. Co-directing with writer Reid Carolin, Tatum’s Dog is a low-key charmer that probably isn’t for kids or the family audience that might be expected from the cutsey poster; instead, this is a film squarely about PTSD, but one that resolves with barely a shot fired other than in a funeral salute.
Instead, we meet Jackson Briggs (Tatum), a US Army Ranger who has returned to his home country, but still bears the physical and mental scars of his tours of duty. Briggs is entrusted with a tricky mission; a comrade has fallen, and Briggs has to transport a highly-trained military dog to Arizona for his handler’s funeral. Of course, Lulu is no ordinary dog; she’s got her own PTSD, and can’t forget her training, leading her to tear up car-seats through her own anxiety, and also to target innocent foreigners; Lulu’s ‘greatest hits’ DVD is grim watching. This pairing leads to all manner of difficulties for Briggs, but as man and dog approach their grim graveside goal, a bond is struck that helps them both see the world with a bit more clarity.
Tatum deals himself a great hand here; he’s able to suggest the physicality of a hardened soldier, but also the charm to make an outwardly tough character easy to engage with; there’s a stand-out scene in which Briggs, cornered in a police ID line-up, begs for forgiveness for himself and his dog after sneaking into a posho hotel in disguise as a blind veteran and his seeing eye dog. His crime is serious, but his plea is successful; as a movie, Dog is humanitarian at heart, refusing to demonise anyone, but offering a compassionate take on the tough side of American life today. And notably, Dog refuses to Disney-fy the animal in question; instead, it does more than most to get into the head of Biggs’ canine pal, and understand why their training provides a problem when back on civvy street.
Dog takes a few surprising pit-stops, with attempted threesomes and petty theft providing bumps along the way. But this is a rare film that focuses on spiritual development, fake and real, and should be an eye-opener for anyone who doesn’t know about the historical background to using animals in war. Lulu didn’t sign up for what she gets, and Briggs probably didn’t either; they make a heroic couple in this thoughtful, engaging movie about a rugged lonely boy and his even more rugged, lonely dog, and how they provide meaning in each other’s life.