I don’t usually talk about movies much here but I need to vent. I also don’t usually go to movies about animals. I get too emotional. But the movie called Dog starring Channing Tatum looked good so we gave it a try.
Tatum plays an ex-Ranger named Briggs who is out of the Army because of a traumatic brain injury. He’s not adjusting well to civilian life. He wants to become a contractor to go back to a war zone but his injury reports are keeping him out of a job. He needs a former commanding officer to vouch for him. In order to get this, he agrees to take a retired combat dog to the hometown funeral of her handler and then drop her off at another base where she will be euthanized because she is unhandleable.
This movie’s trailer sort of set this up as a funny road trip of a guy and a dog. It isn’t just that. I was reading some reviews of the movie after I saw it and was shocked that most of the reviewers completely missed the point. They are trying to review a Turner and Hooch style dog and guy comedy. They say it doesn’t work. It isn’t trying to. This movie is an exploration of untreated trauma. **Mild Spoilers Ahead**
Honestly, if I would have realized how well they were going to portray that I probably wouldn’t have gone to see it right now. Lulu’s handler killed himself. I don’t know if most people who aren’t around veterans would pick that up right away. He crashed into a tree at 120 MPH. My first thought was suicide or just being ok with dying if it happens and not trying to stop it. It is treated as just another thing that happens because that’s how a lot of veterans treat it in order to keep going. Just a few days ago the husband found out that a person he was trying to help with his PTSD killed himself. The movie shows people who knew the handler recalling discussions where they had told stories about how they would like to kill themselves. It is so common.
Tatum’s character is not taking his own injuries or mental health seriously. He isn’t fitting into the civilian world. He wants to go back to war where things make sense to him. Again, this is a common issue. Nothing is wrong. He can power through it. Nothing to see here – until they break.
This is mirrored in Lulu. She’s an anxious mess and no one is reaching her. Better just to put her out of her misery instead of trying to rehabilitate her. (Obviously they don’t. It’s a movie.)
There is a scene where they are robbed of her handler’s belongings. They track the thief down to a homeless encampment. The thief is wearing her handler’s Army fatigues and claims they are his. He gets beat up and clothes are taken back. He is referred to as something like a Stolen Valor son of a bitch. Afterwards Briggs and a veteran friend are talking and the friend mentions that five years ago he might have been found in that encampment. The point was that he is in a better place now. He’s gently implying that Briggs needs some help and that that is ok. He’s been there. Veteran homelessness is a huge issue. Reviewers mocked this too. They didn’t understand that the thief was faking being a veteran. They didn’t understand the point that you can get to a better place than where you might be right now. I read reviews saying that the moral of that scene was a trite “Count your blessings because we could have been there – Ha, Ha.” So clueless.
I don’t know if I’ve seen a movie where issues involving veterans reintegrating into society were portrayed so well in a story that on the surface appears to be a comedy. If you are a veteran or are veteran-adjacent, parts of this movie hit hard. There were times when the husband was hanging onto my hand for moral support. But sure, just a run-of-the-mill guy and dog comedy.