“How lucky can one man get?”
Marking his co-directorial debut alongside Rein Carolin, Channing Tatum stars as Briggs, a former Army Ranger who, after suffering a brain injury during combat, spends his days making sandwiches at a local fast-food restaurant. At night he drinks himself to sleep, unable to healthily process the issues stemming from his service overseas.
After hearing that his friend, Sergeant Rodriguez, has died, Briggs is entrusted to drive Rodriguez's military dog Lulu (a Belgian Malinois) to the funeral. The trip should only take fifteen hours. Completing it will put Briggs in a position to get reenacted. All he has to do is arrive on time and stay out of trouble.
Given her military training, Lulu is both combative and aggressive. Though details concerning her past are scarce, we do catch glimpses of her accolades. Referred to as a former "legend," Briggs displays her Purple Heart while working his way into a free room at an upscale hotel, and photographs in her book show a disciplined canine.
Now, away from the fighting, she appears to struggle in her new environment, snapping at the slightest sounds, unable to integrate herself back into "civilian" life. Combine that with an unusual amount of panting, and Lulu's issues metaphorically encompass Dog’s larger narrative.
While the forced duo embarks on their road trip, a planned stop at a shooting range and an unplanned break at a marijuana farm provide some context to their past lives. Their physical and mental wounds are on display as Briggs longs for a degree of sexual connection and Lulu deals with her issues of isolation, abandonment, and stress. But neither of their problems are dealt with head-on. Instead, they serve as a deeply rooted counter to the buddy-comedy taking shape up top.
Though interwoven with humor, Dog is a surprisingly serious and moving story dealing with the after-effects of combat. The matters surrounding PTSD, mental health, and emotional support are hinted at in broad strokes, though viewers will have to pay attention to understand the subtext fully. These two are suffering, each in their own way, and neither knows how to ask for help.
When we catch wind of Briggs' life outside the Army, we become more interested in his current situation. Family in Los Angeles grounds the film in a big city, combating the life we assumed he lived: in a cabin, chopping wood, working on his mind and body. At the same time, an encounter with one of Lulu's siblings who also served time overseas opens the door for a better understanding of her issues, again personifying the time and attention people need when returning from active duty.
A storm leads the pair into a shed stuffed with odds and ends. With tumultuous thunder crashing outside, they put on Lulu's favorite episodes of Grey's Anatomy to calm her. The night is a building block to their relationship, showcasing the response that love and comfort can get from those who long it.
That is, in large part, what Dog attempts to convey. A vanity project in many ways for Tatum, the film struggles to find a consistent pace and even more so to tell its meant story. Working hard to incorporate humor and appeal to the masses, it often loses sight of its end game. But for those willing to pay attention, the subtleties work. And it's hard not to love a redemption story, regardless of the mammal.