By: Trevor Chartrand
In Dogman, a mild-mannered dog groomer named Marcello (Marcello Fonte) struggles to make ends meet in his Italian slum. He gets by in his community, which is populated by a variety of small-time crooks, by dealing cocaine to support his ex-wife and their daughter. After standing up to a notorious citizen however, the former boxer and town bully Simoncino (Edoardo Pesce), Marcello loses the respect of his neighbors and is forced to change himself to save his reputation.
For a film with seven different names on the screenplay, the narrative in Dogman has a surprising simplicity to it. Dogman is structured like a three-act play rather than with a traditional film narrative though. Each act feels like its own little short film, or a chapter in a longer novel. Each piece of the movie could easily have been its own story, all contributing to the larger narrative.
The film truly feels like it has fallen out of time, with a classic 1970s look and feel, reminiscent of the vigilante justice genre that was popular during that decade. The film has a gritty, classic western look, and a lot of that is owed to the poverty-stricken locations and set design used by the filmmakers. The film is shot in and around dilapidated buildings in a lower-class Italy. The look and style is brutal and crumbling, depressing and grungy. The film stock itself is grainy and scratched, making this movie feel even more timeless.
The performances all-around are strong, with a lot of depth for our protagonist Marcello. He goes through a lot of change in each of three acts, beginning as a humble dog enthusiast, and ending as an angry criminal driven by vengeance. Marcello’s character arc is essentially a highly truncated version of Brian Cranston’s journey in Breaking Bad.
While Fonte has plenty to do as Marcello, the supporting actors aren’t given a whole lot to work with. As a meathead thug, there’s not much depth to Simoncino’s character, other than being the coke-stealing bully. He’s a real enough antagonist and is portrayed well by Pesce, however it’s unfortunate that this script only had room for one strong character, leaving the rest in the peripheral.
The same can be said for Marcello’s daughter. There’s a strong relationship established between the two of them, and Marcello clearly cares about her more than anyone. He strives to protect her and loves to take her snorkeling. The two share a common interest in dogs and she helps out as a groomer. In the final third of the film though, she is left out of the story almost completely and there is no resolution to her character. That’s the biggest thing missing from the film, as it was Marcello’s emotional anchor and his most charming quality: he was a great father. It’s not the kind of subplot that should get completely dropped and ignored.
Other than that though, the ending of the film is incredibly effective, especially with its use of silence. The range of emotion and self-reflection on display by Fonte is commendable, all without a single word of dialogue. The character experiences everything from brutality, triumph, regret and rejection all in a matter of minutes without ever saying anything. The film is worth watching for those final moments alone; it is a great sample of visual storytelling.
Overall, Dogman is a well-told crime story with plenty of dramatic tension. The film is riddled with sparse violence that doesn’t ever overstay its welcome. The story is plain and simple, in the most effective sort of way, and it looks and feels tonally like it was stored in a time capsule that was buried in the 1970s. Dogman is certainly recommended for a rainy day screening.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor