Lassie has to be very strong now. What the most famous of all collie dogs can do, the dogs in Luc Besson’s “Dogman” have long been able to do. On command, they enthusiastically bring flour and eggs (in a carton) while cooking, easily find their way to the police and save their master from villains.
Perfectly orchestrated raid – jewels go to the dogs
But what might be even worse for the law-abiding Lassie: Unlike her, four-legged friends of all breeds and promenade mixes use their cleverness in a perfectly orchestrated jewel heist, which, with a little good will, brings back memories of the gang of crooks around George Clooney in “Ocean’s Eleven”.
Small dogs get in everywhere, even in a secluded millionaire’s villa. And large dogs, at the imperceptible nod of their owner, tear apart villains who, according to the logic of this film, deserve no other end.
Luc Besson made a dog film – but not a children’s film
Which makes it clear: The Frenchman Luc Besson made a dog film with “Dogman”, but definitely not a children’s film. Its wild mix of genres – psychological thriller, gangster comedy, revenge film – has an age rating of 16 and over.
At the beginning of September, his film was honored with inclusion in the competition at the Venice Festival. Besson didn’t win anything; that would have been too much of an honor.
Director and screenwriter Besson may have been driven by the desire to brush a dog film against the grain. The dirty comedy “Doggy Style” recently tried something like this in its own way. In the credits, Besson thanks his Italian colleague Matteo Garrone, the director of another film called “Dogman” (2018), in which a dog groomer frees himself from a dastardly criminal – a wonderfully complex story.
The hero is a kind of superhero who gathers a pack of dogs around him
Besson has repeatedly demonstrated a penchant for high-priced trash cinema throughout his career. His long-ago successes already bore traces of this, such as the action thriller “Léon – The Professional” (1994) about a child-saving contract killer or the science fiction film “The Fifth Element” (1997) with Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich.
You can certainly imagine the hero in “Dogman” as a comic book character, perhaps even as an unfortunate superhero who instead of superpowers has at least a whole pack of super dogs and is more or less confined to a wheelchair. Associations with Joaquin Phoenix and his “Joker” arise, and not just because of the traumatized protagonist’s desire to dress up.
When the police pick him up, Doug is wearing a blood-spattered Monroe dress
The police pick up Douglas (Caleb Landry Jones, known from “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) during a traffic stop. He’s wearing the outfit of a drag queen (more precisely, he’s dressed up like Marilyn Monroe), his body is spattered with blood, and the back of his truck is full of dogs, terriers, Dobermans, wolfhounds, German Shepherds, plush balls of all stripes.
During the interrogation, Douglas meets another outsider, the single police psychologist Evelyn (Jojo T. Gibbs). Two found each other “in pain,” as Douglas says without shying away from pathos. He opens his insides to her. Looking back, he tells his story.
The hero spent his childhood in a dog kennel
We learn about his terrible childhood. Apparently he spent most of his time in the dog kennel, locked up by his violent father (Clemens Schick). Douglas learns one thing above all at a young age: you can only trust animals, not people. From his point of view, dogs have only one flaw: they trust people. His family are his dogs, or as a quote at the beginning of the film says: “Wherever there is an unfortunate person, God sends a dog.” Here it is a whole pack.
At times Besson verges on the ridiculous, for example when he has one of his dogs bite a top gangster in the groin in order to make the man submissive. Douglas reads Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to his attentive-looking animal.
As is often the case with Besson: a better script would have been good
After many previous films, Besson was advised that he should have spent the budget not only on acting, but also on a better script. That also applies in this case. Clemens Schicks as a violent father only serves stereotypes. Lead actor Caleb Landry Jones, on the other hand, at least knows how to give his part a melancholic touch.
Besson’s “Dogman” does have one coup to offer: despite all the violent acts, dogs are not injured once during the film’s plot – and anyway, the filming was monitored by animal rights activists, as you can read at the end. The two-legged friends in front of the camera fared worse.