Caleb Landry Jones Shines in Offbeat Thriller

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Summary

  • Caleb Landry Jones shines as Douglas in this offbeat revenge thriller, delivering an electrifying and memorable performance.
  • The film requires some suspension of disbelief due to its absurdist quality, but it offers a fresh take on the revenge thriller genre.
  • Luc Besson’s
    DogMan
    explores themes of suffering and love through the unique connection between Douglas and a community of dogs.



There’s a certain way to experience DogMan, visionary Luc Besson’s new thriller. For starters, best to know Besson. He’s the man who gave us The Fifth Element and Lucy, and those two films exist outside typical cinematic norms. They are as edgy as they are dreamy. DogMan offers something similar. The best thing to know going into the film is that it is a bit bonkers from the get-go. With that in mind, it shouldn’t phase you (much) to watch this trippy tale of reclamation and how far one man decides to go to take justice into his own hands.

DogMan wouldn’t be the film it is, however, without Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class, Get Out, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), playing the troubled yet calculating Douglas, a man who survived an abusive past and went on to transform himself into another kind of creature entirely. Jones delivers one of the most electrifying performances of the year. It’s an award-worthy turn, although we doubt most industry insiders will see it that way. Perhaps it doesn’t meet conventional Oscar standards. However, Emma Stone grabbed the gold for playing a far more over-the-top individual, so Landry deserves some credit here. Watch the film for Landry. Then, savor the nuances.


Employing flashbacks, the film tracks Douglas—from the prison interrogation room to childhood and beyond—revealing his traumatic early years, how the abused boy ultimately found salvation and came into his own, and the ballsy way he sought justice through his connection with dogs. Many dogs, in fact. If you appreciate avant-garde and edgy films with quirky protagonists at the center of the story—and if you have some patience to allow this film to win you over—DogMan is tail-wagging fun. Let’s unpack it.


He Will Survive

DogMan

DogMan

4/5

Release Date
April 5, 2024

Runtime
114 Minutes

Pros

  • Caleb Landry Jones is fantastic, portraying a genuinely memorable character in Douglas Munrow.
  • The unique and offbeat story keeps the revenge thriller feeling fresh.
Cons

  • The absurdist quality of the film requires some suspension of disbelief, which may not land with audiences.


The inspiration for DogMan came partly from an article Luc Besson read about a French family who threw their own child in a cage when he was just five. Curious about how that would affect a person mentally, Besson set out to write and direct DogMan, hoping to expound upon the universal themes of suffering and love. In the case of Douglas Munrow, the love comes from the strange connection he develops with a community of dogs.

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We first meet Douglas driving a truck with what appears to be a pack of wild dogs in the back. Douglas is in drag—blond wig, tres Marilyn—and we wonder if this film is about a tormented drag performer. Yes and no. (More on that later.) Having been stopped by the police, Douglas remains calm, smiling knowingly. When Evelyn (JoJo T. Gibbs), a court-appointed psychologist, begins interrogating Douglas, we learn more about him through these sessions and how his strong connections to canines are formed.


Under the brutal rule of an abusive father (Clemens Schick), Douglas was locked in a cage of dogs and forced to exist there for years, we assume. His brown-nosing bully of an older brother (Lincoln Powell) isn’t much help, but divine providence inserts itself into Douglas’s situation, offering a chance at freedom. But it comes with a price—mobility.

Suddenly, in a wheelchair with limited walking abilities, Douglas realizes who his true loved ones—and most loyal means of support—are. Dogs. There’s a delightful absurdist quality to this film, and it requires some suspension of belief—or not—when Douglas’ canines reveal just how fine-tuned they are to their human companion. We “got” it. Whether audiences will remains to be seen, but it’s hard to deny just how close our connections to our four-legged pals can actually be.


A Revenge Thriller With a Twist

DogMan also inserts a fitting B story—thankfully not cloying—involving Evelyn, a single mother, who herself has been under the watchful eye of an opinionated parent—albeit far less harsh than Caleb’s brutal “caregiver.” That plot affords the movie a sense of groundedness and a way to peek into Caleb’s story as Evelyn pieces together how Douglas wound up sitting before her. JoJo T. Gibbs, who shined in the comedy Twenties, is more serious here, and her empathy for Douglas also allows us to invest in the character and this story’s outcome.


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Let’s talk about Douglas, shall we? In watching Caleb Landry Jones, one recalls Heath Ledger’s fever-dreamy portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight. The whimsy, the knowing smile, the calm yet mysterious eyes—you never know what’s about to happen next. Luc Besson presents us with a rare, memorable character.

As fate would have it, we learn that adult Douglas, seeking work, stumbles into a gig singing in drag. Music, like dogs, was a comfort, after all, and it’s here that the film shifts tonally for a bit as Douglas croons to make a living. Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose has never been so richly captured or performed.


Meanwhile, there are some gritty criminal antics happening on the streets, and Douglas, like Batman perhaps, has placed himself in the “protector” role. Situations come to a boil, of course. Criminals reveal themselves. Douglas, still nursing daddy-issue wounds and thirsty for revenge, takes delight in orchestrating a series of outlandish yet effective measures to keep justice in check.

Break-ins, machine guns, trick doors, uber-sentient doggies knowing just what to do—oh my! It’s like a warped 101 Dalmatians by way of a fallen DC hero. And wicked fun. If… you allow yourself to just float along and see where this surreal tale wants to take you. It also illuminates how a tragic aftermath in one’s life can play out in absurd twists.


Inventive, offbeat, and buoyed by Caleb Landry Jones’s tour de force performance. We should also give these canines credit, too. They know just how to patrol—sometimes with their jaws locked on your crotch. One can imagine the lengths Luc Besson went to with dog trainers and nearly 150 dogs prancing around. By the looks of it, these canines got down their cues. Bottom line: DogMan is devilishly fun, and Caleb Landry Jones commands the screen. DogMan opens in select theaters on Mar. 29.

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