Channing Tatum has become a reliable presence in films and with this release he takes another step in his ascent to an essential Hollywood Player, he co-directs the film with his frequent producing partner Reid Carolin. Together they have crafted an affecting story of two wounded warriors who find a way to help each other through the battlefield scars that are holding them in misery. This is a military story with a dog, and that was enough to get me into the theater, but what can Tatum manage to do to make me happy that I showed up?
If you have visited this site before, tou may see that I have a fondness for films featuring dogs. This however is a bit different because the dog that is featured is not a lovable mutt or a friendly golden retriever, Lulu is a Belgian Malinois, trained as a military dog working with Army Rangers in middle eastern conflicts. The dog has been wounded ant traumatized, most recently by the death of her handler. She is on edge and dangerous, and sensitive to a variety of triggers. Tatum plays Jackson Briggs, a fellow platoon member of the deceased, who is himself trying to return to service after head trauma suffered in war has put him on disability leave. Lulu is an animal, so doesn’t bother trying to hide her PTSD, but Briggs is all kinds of a mess and in denial that any real problem exists.
So this is a road picture, with the dog and soldier driving along the West coast to arrive at the funeral for their comrade in arms, and ultimately, Lulu will be assessed and likely put down because of the condition she is in. So it is no surprise that the film is really about how these two damaged creatures begin a healing process that is needed but was not being actively sought. The incidents along the road demonstrate that both of these warriors have skills that remain functional, but that they are also ill equipped to deal with their troubles on their own. Two sequences, one on a pot farm in Oregon and another in a hotel in San Francisco, give us some drama and a little humor. Each character dances around the other, setting off problems and adventures but ultimately bringing them closer to healing.
Three different dogs are credited for the Lulu performance, and they do a good job showing her fierce personality, but also giving us glimpses of the companion and partner that she must have been to the deceased soldier. Between destructive moments, and fearful incidents, Lulu also shows us an animal who is well trained, capable of friendliness if approached correctly and even providing some lovable glances, in spite of her teeth being bared. Tatum is a natural as a soldier without portfolio, who is struggling with his place in the world. He exudes confidence but secretly is in turmoil and incapable of getting past some traumas. He is great with the comedic bits in the film, but he carries the drama also.
At just over a hundred minutes, the film is paced well and it doesn’t linger over the story it is telling. The screenplay, by Carolin and Brett Rodriguez, who has been a crew member on some of the films Tatum and Carolin made together, does a good job of showing rather than telling us the story of these two soldiers. Maybe the best example of this are two nearly wordless sequences when Briggs tries to connect with family. We get the dog’s point of view, instead of a dialogue filled confrontation, and it helps keep the story focused on Briggs and Lulu. This film has been a success and that gives me hope because if a mid-level drama like this can pull in an audience, there may be hope for other films that are not Comic Book Spectacles.