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.
Marcello (Marcello Fonte), a shy, drug dealing proprietor of a dog grooming shop in a small Italian town enters into an uneasy criminal relationship with an ex-con turned local bully (Edoardo Pesce). Marcello, a 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, especially once Marcello is forced into helping with the robbery of a cash-for-gold shop located next door to his grooming operation.
Garrone has always been one of the most emotionally manipulative and purposefully downbeat working filmmakers in the world, and the empty, hollow provocation of Dogman represents a new low. The premise is intriguing enough, and 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, his penchant for drab locations captured with complex cinematography, and rote 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, especially during the almost laughably on-the-nose ending.
A huge part of the problem with Dogman is that Garrone paints the plight of his characters in the most purposefully cartoonish light possible, without leaving anything to the imagination that could be perceived as being funny or perceptive. The battles between Marcello and his aggressor are hard to take seriously, precisely because Garrone refuses to let up on his own self-seriousness. It’s a damning flaw across all of Garrone’s works, all of which are similarly browbeating morality tales told by someone who understands misery, but likely never experienced anything close to the tragedies he’s trying to depict.
Fonte and Pesce leave considerable impressions with their performances, but Dogman is a hollow motion picture made up almost entirely of overinflated subtext about the emptiness of human existence. There are probably great dramas and comedies that can be made from this material, but Dogman never decides what it wants to be, settling for a mushy, miserable middle. These are the same notes Garrone has been hitting since Gomorrah (his only great and well rounded film to date) and the song is getting tiresome quickly.
Dogman opens at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto and in Montreal on Friday, June 21, 2019. It expands to additional Canadian cities throughout the summer.
Check out the trailer for Dogman:
Portions of this review appeared previously as part of our coverage of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. It has been updated and expanded for the film’s theatrical release.