Movies dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, have a long history, going back at least to 1946’s Oscar-winning The Best Years of Our Lives. Some films address the symptoms of PTSD in subtle ways, and others are more overt about the after-effects of war, including mental anguish, drug abuse, violence, and more.
The new film Dog finds a nice middle ground, helped greatly by its unusual story. Channing Tatum plays Briggs, a former Army Ranger who was forced off active duty because of a traumatic brain injury. He’s still a military lifer, though, begging his commanding officer to recommend him for a position that would put him close to the action again.
When fellow Ranger Riley Rodriguez dies, Briggs is promised that recommendation if he will drive Lulu — a Belgian Malinois dog with which Rodriguez was paired in the Army — from Oregon to Arizona for his funeral. Like Briggs, though, Lulu is dealing with her own past trauma and acts out in various, sometimes aggressive, ways.
Co-directed by Tatum and Reid Carolin (the writer of the Magic Mike movies) and written by Carolin and Brett Rodriguez, the film takes what could have been your typical schmaltz and instead makes it very affecting. There’s little doubt about where the film is heading, but because Briggs and Lulu have a tenuous bond that could shatter at any moment, the film holds a tension that other films dealing with animals usually do not.
What’s surprising about the short, 90-minute film is how much care Carolin and Rodriguez take with the story. There are a couple of goofy subplots involving some New Age-y Oregonians that Briggs runs into, but overall the story has a genuine earnestness that proves irresistible. A couple of the detours on the road trip make a big impact on the story’s effectiveness, especially a reunion with Lulu’s brother and his handler/owner (Ethan Suplee).
Although Briggs has various human interactions along the way, it’s his relationship with Lulu that makes the film work. Tatum doesn’t have a reputation as a great actor, but he makes the most of the emotional heavy lifting he’s required to do in the film. The dog, of course, is the other key component, and she has a lot of great moments in the film, especially as the film nears its end.
You could make a lot of jokes about the star and writer of Magic Mike teaming up to make their directorial debuts, but they have the last laugh with Dog. It’s a highly watchable, well-told story that takes a fresh look at the fallout of war without losing its charm.
Dog is now playing in theaters.