If you’re looking for the next gripping historical war piece, Dog won’t be your next best friend. If you’re looking for a non-stereotypical portrayal of men in uniform, well, Dog still isn’t for you. But fret not fans of military dramas, Dog has more than a few new tricks to show off involving the real-life struggles of Army veterans, while providing uncommon insight into the relationships between soldiers and combat service dogs.
Frequent collaborators Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin are back together again, this time with Tatum not only starring in another Carolin production, but also making his directorial debut alongside him as co-director. From what we’ve seen in their past works together, Tatum and Carolin tend to stick to comedy, and they’ve found a way to make it work: Magic Mike, Logan Lucky, etc. Though with Dog, it’s clear the pair went a little out of their doghouse.
Tatum portrays former Army Ranger Jackson Briggs, a man grappling with civilian life who is willing to do whatever it takes to get back to active duty status. We learn early on that he suffered physical trauma in battle and is itching to return to service. Although he insists he has a “full, clean medical,” the agency reminds him soldiers with a history of brain injury cannot be sent to a war zone, and he’ll need certification from his commanding officer if he wants to be considered.
After an arbitrary, yet admittedly attention-grabbing scene of Tatum chopping wood, he receives a call informing him a comrade has passed away, and he eventually makes a deal with his commanding officer to help drive the fallen soldier’s dog, Lulu, to her deceased handler’s funeral before she’s put down. Never mind mental well-being, if you complete this capricious task, you are certainly ready for war!
Luckily, when the road trip from Washington to Arizona begins, we finally get some impactful bits alluding to Briggs’ anxiety and the effects of his brain injury. Even the intensity of bullets striking a gun range target trigger Briggs’ PTSD, but Dog filters these downbeat moments with typical dog-movie comic relief.
Some of these attempts at lightening the mood do feel out of place. Briggs comes off as a bit of a womanizer, and also quite horrible when at one point impersonating a blind man to get a free hotel room. But these moments are played off as goofy antics broken up by Lulu, who just might put Briggs on the path to recovery in more ways than one.
In one of the more memorable lines of the film, a former Army Ranger dog handler remarks on how soldiers tend to accept the impossible challenge of fixing the world’s problems, yet they find it harder to simply reach out to others for help. Not even knowing they need to ask or even offer it. Between panic attacks and mutual bonding between man and dog, Dog is certainly messy in its message, at least in how it gets said message across. It misses an opportunity to give a more serious take on the prevalence of mental health issues stemming from war, while still giving due credit to the four-legged soldiers who never volunteered.
Dog opens in theaters February 18th. Watch the trailer here.