Equally grim and manipulative, Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone’s true crime inspired morality tale Dogman is a frustratingly obvious, paper thin, and wholly indulgent entry into the Gomorrah and Reality director’s cinema of misery.
The premise is intriguing enough. A shy, drug dealing proprietor of a dog grooming shop in a small Italian town (Marcello Fonte) enters into an uneasy criminal relationship with an ex-con turned local bully (Edoardo Pesce). The single father has no real say in the matter, with the brute violently lashing out towards anyone who dares to question his stranglehold on the community. It’s never sure if the groomer wants to make friends with such a psychopath, or if he simply wants to “go along to get along,” but there’s no way things will end well for all parties involved.
Garrone has always been one of the most emotionally manipulative and purposefully downbeat working filmmakers in the world, and the empty, hollow nature of Dogman’s provocation represents a new low. There’s plenty of style and panache to Garrone’s beatings, tortures, and outright pandering, but it’s all in service of an easily understood message about how good people only fight back against tyranny once they’ve been broken down or incapacitated by society. It’s a fair point, but Garrone’s overwrought and garish editing and storytelling techniques leave little room for ambiguity or true interpretation. It’s all surface level stuff, and while it’s appropriately grimy, it’s like being punished and chastised for something you already know to be true.