DOGMAN. Dogs to the Rescue [REVIEW]
“Dogs don’t lie when they talk about love,” claims Douglas (Caleb Landry Jones), so it’s no wonder that he chooses companionship with them rather than with humans. The life path chosen by the protagonist is not a result of choice, but rather a necessity (Douglas would probably say it’s part of a divine plan). His kin in the animal kingdom inflicted so many wounds—both physical and emotional—that he had to change course. Therefore, when he finally escaped from family oppression and crawled through a series of humiliating social interactions, he decided to settle in an abandoned building; far from the prying eyes of people and surrounded by the care of a sizable group of his canine adopted children.
Dogs need fresh air sometimes, so, on the orders of their human leader, they perform various tasks: from carefully planned jewelry thefts (Douglas calls this operation “redistribution of goods”) to intimidating the childlessness of the local gang boss. Sequences with the four-legged companions in action are small masterpieces, as Besson directs them with imagination and sensational flair, qualities he hasn’t displayed in a long time. In “Dogman,” we find everything best in the director’s work: a marriage of the typical French neobaroque stylistic extravagance with a touch of kitsch, but a very sincere dose of sentimentality.
Besson has a heart not only for dogs but also for his human protagonist. The character of Douglas may strongly resonate with Joker from Todd Phillips’ film because the creators depict him with an almost comic book-like stroke, and Caleb Landry Jones successfully employs a twin arsenal of acting techniques as Joaquin Phoenix did, thus referencing a related—though less expressive—role in “Nitram.” The character’s illustration is also similar: an outcast who ends up biting back and sets his terms to aggressors. However, “Dogman” rhymes more with “Titane.” Partly because Besson, with somewhat undisguised enthusiasm, directs the camera at the supports assisting Douglas’s fragile body, turning the man into a metallic-human hybrid reminiscent of Alexia. Above all, the characters of both films share a common problem—both Julia Ducornau and Luc Besson tell stories of people suffering from a lack of closeness.
This deficit must be somehow compensated. Since Douglas lacks a human shoulder to cry on, he must find solace in his dogs. True solace, however, he finds—no surprise—in the theater. Therefore, “Dogman” is also a film about the therapeutic power of art. Marred by disability and considered a weirdo, Douglas cannot count on equal treatment in everyday life, so he awaits moments when he can put on a mask. Unfeigned admiration among people arises only when, disguised, he embodies characters from Shakespeare or, as a drag queen, imitates Édith Piaf or Marilyn Monroe. The thread of Douglas’s extraordinary stage abilities is moving, albeit somewhat naive, but at least it brings songs like “Sweet Dreams” or “Non, je ne regrette rien” to the soundtrack. These songs add a touch of sweetness to the gritty action cinema.
“Dogman” is, therefore, partly a Hollywood action flick and a sensitive, European, spirit drama about monstrous suffering caused by a lack of love. Not everything here fits perfectly—religious metaphors are too obvious (in one scene, Douglas literally falls with a cross)—but this film has great power, also thanks to its successfully exaggerated style. Luca Besson’s new tale is strange but incredibly captivating and, at times, moving. The moral seems quite simple: we all need support—even if sometimes the only help we can count on is a dog’s love.