Venice 2023: Besson’s ‘DogMan’ is a Dog-Filled Triumph of Vengeance

Venice 2023: Besson’s ‘DogMan’ is a Dog-Filled Triumph of Vengeance

by Alex Billington
August 31, 2023

DogMan Review

Release the hounds!! One of my favorite films from the first half of the 2023 Venice Film Festival so far is DogMan, the latest original film from French filmmaker Luc Besson (director of films including Léon: The Professional, The Big Blue, The Fifth Element, Angel-A). After initially being planned for release earlier in the year, buzz from buyers at the EFM in early 2023 made them hold it until the fall. Now it’s playing in the Main Competition in Venice, with a release set for the fall. It’s worth the wait! DogMan is a triumphant vengeance movie with a traditional narrative structure that provides just the right amount of entertainment value. It’s a tad cheesy, doesn’t try to reinvent or rethink anything, yet it is an engaging story of a boy who grows up to become a vigilante. Of course, as a dog lover, I usually love every movie involving dogs – and this is a major one. There are so many dogs in it, so many cute pups of all kinds, and thankfully not a single one of them ever gets hurt or harmed. I would really like to hang out with all of the stars of this film, please.

The film tells incredible story of a child, bruised and battered by life, who will find his salvation through the love of his dogs. It’s as simple as that – nothing more. On one hand, there’s a possibility that Luc Besson is trying to tell another “superhero” origin story, but without any “super” enhancements to this character – this story is grounded. We have DC’s Catwoman, of course, well – here is our introduction to Dogman as well. It might also be dangerous to say this, because this comparison will bring out the worst in some people, but it’s similar to Joker in many ways, too. An underdog (no pun intended) story of a guy that everyone has treated poorly finally learning rise up and take out the trash using his own special tricks and techniques. His special powers happen to be an innate ability to communicate with and train dogs, conducting them with precise movements and instructions. He uses this to his advantage to get rid of a lot of bad people that come after him for various reasons, culminating in a big showdown with a local gang try to take over his neighborhood.

DogMan is both written and directed by Luc Besson, and takes place in and around the suburbs of New York City. It’s not really set in the city, mostly in the outskirts where Douglas spends most of his time living as an outsider. Caleb Landry Jones stars as titular “DogMan”, offering up another exceptional performance – fully realized, entirely convincing, and layered. He grew up with an extraordinarily violent father, eventually running away after being locked in a dog pen outside. Dogs have been his solace for most of his life, always loyal and kind to him, no matter what. There’s a rather generic narrative structure within this film that I know some critics will despise, but it doesn’t bother me. It features Douglas telling his entire life story to a psychiatrist who’s interviewing him after he’s arrested following the big climatic finale of the film. He recaps everything, as we watch every bit of this story play out – from his childhood up to this interview and beyond. It’s a tale of redemption and vengeance, featuring numerous cliche scenes of all kinds. Despite being quite familiar, they are still engaging to watch; Besson certainly knows how to make a movie, no doubt about that.

Maybe I just love seeing a doggie-powered “superhero” story from the streets of New York. Maybe I just love watching this guy get rid of bad people by having his dogs get at them or bite them or scare them. Maybe I just love a well-made, entertaining movie about vengeance. Whatever it is, I had a fantastic time watching DogMan and I know I’m not alone howling its praises to the world. I’m sure most dog lovers will enjoy, too.

Alex’s Venice 2023 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd – @firstshowing


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