Trigger Warning: Dog, and the below review contains talk about suicide.
Dog is a film that touches on the depths of how PTSD and injuries can affect everyone. From significant others, parents, to the dogs trained for the front lines, to the soldiers themselves, directors Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin try to hit every angle. Their efforts succeed in some areas, and fail in others.
Channing Tatum also stars in this movie as former U.S. Army Ranger Jackson Briggs. Briggs was discharged due to a traumatic brain injury, and is trying to make his way back into civilian society. In doing so, he ends up taking Lulu, his former partner’s Belgian Malinois Military Working Dog who’s suffering from trauma, to the partner’s funeral. Lulu is unwilling to work with anyone, making her a risk in the Army. This results in one wild road trip down the west coast.
I’ll start with the worst part of Dog first. Tatum’s character, is reused from the Magic Mike movies which were also written by Reid Carolin. It detracts immensely from the emotional resonance the film tries to portray, of injuries and PTSD. Briggs knows Lulu’s name, and instead for more than half the film Briggs chooses to call her Dog instead. It’s an attempt to distance himself from Lulu who was his partner’s partner. Lulu has an I Love Me book full of her handler’s notes about Lulu and how much she saved him. Ultimately it wasn’t enough, and the handler joined the estimated 22 military members a day who commit suicide.
Briggs talks so fondly of his friend, yet draws so many lines between him and Lulu. It’s an effort to avoid attachment, because of his future and Lulu’s. But his treatment of Lulu (and the Army’s) borderlines on animal abuse. Belgian Malinois’ are powerful animals, not to be messed with, but they’re still animals. And there was a different way to tell this story versus how they did. The script hits on some hard issues, but blazes past others that could have been touched on more delicately.
Despite the above issues, there are several heartwarming parts in Dog. Once Briggs moves into “you know I could care for her in her final days”, it borders on heartbreaking. PTSD plays a huge role in military members and veterans’ lives, and Carolin and Tatum manage to capture a very real feeling. Topped with the traumatic brain injury Briggs has suffered, life after military is on display. Carolin’s screenplay dedicates itself to articulating that process in each scene captured by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel.
Another thing that I really enjoyed in this movie is absolutely how much Dog shows how animals can have an effect on your life. Lulu is present in Briggs’ life after injury for 4 days and the one good thing about how they chose to tell the story is you see the change in Briggs. Speaking from experience, the depth a dog can bring to your life is unbelievable. There have been several times I’ve told my two dogs Antilles and Benny that they saved my life. And it’s very true for Briggs in Dog. He stops trying to live his life as a military man and moves forward as a civilian.
Dog tries to pull off a comedic approach, but it really should have leaned into the experience of a veteran living with trauma. And it does to an extent. Lulu is the main focus, but together, she and Briggs do more for each other than they could have ever done apart. There’s strength in healing together, and it’s articulated beautifully by Tatum and Carolin.
Overall, Dog is a success. It articulates the story of PTSD survival really well, but is stopped from completing the success with some elements of the story, as well as Tatum’s performance. It also serves as a huge reminder to take a little time and understand those who may be going through a tough time. PTSD affects everyone differently, and seeing it on screen is important. Dog in particular is a great reminder of what U.S. veterans go through when they transition to civilian life. Many struggle with taking the skills they had in the military to civilian day-to-day life, and the administration could do a better job helping them through the process. – Katie Rentschler
Dog is in theaters now.