HomeEntertainmentCaleb Landry Jones Almost Rescues Luc Besson’s New Film

Caleb Landry Jones Almost Rescues Luc Besson’s New Film

Brent Simon is back again with another review hot out of Venice Film Festival. Check out his thoughts on Lucy Besson’s new film in this Dogman review.

Dogman Review

Luc Besson has had a career full of ups and downs. His early films, from The Big Blue and La Femme Nikita to Léon: The Professional and The Fifth Element, branded him as an auteur — but with a decidedly commercial sensibility. A fallow period ensued, but gave way to 2008’s Taken, a smash hit which gave Liam Neeson’s career an entirely different trajectory.

As recently as 2014, with the sci-fi action movie Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson, Besson had humongous success, to the tune of $470 million in worldwide box office, against a budget of barely $40 million. Those types of financial returns will guarantee a filmmaker a lot of leeway.

But the massively-budgeted longtime passion project Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, while a decent performer internationally, didn’t really recoup its combined production and advertising layout, and 2019’s Anna was a washout. The latter in particular coincided with darker headlines, as the filmmaker found himself the subject of both a rape accusation (French prosecutors eventually dropped the case, citing a lack of evidence) and multiple charges of sexual misconduct.

This is all worth noting because whatever one makes of Besson’s offscreen life, and its myriad controversies, it’s most interesting to consider Dogman, the director’s first film in four years, through the lens of a very self-consciously styled attempt at rehabilitation.

Dogman Poster

A world premiere at the 2023 Venice Film Festival in advance of its theatrical release in France later this month, the movie (also scripted by Besson) is a weird, woozy character drama with flashes of criminal violence. Set somewhat inexplicably in New Jersey, it centers around Douglas Munrow (Caleb Landry Jones), an effete young man who much prefers the company of dogs to people.

Picked up by the police while outfitted in drag and partially covered in blood, Douglas is tossed in jail. In short order, he’s sharing his life story with Dr. Evelyn Decker (Jojo T. Gibbs), a single mother psychiatrist assigned to… talk to him, even though Douglas hasn’t yet been charged with a crime, and evidences no particular signs of not being willing to talk to police?

In a matter-of-fact fashion that belies some of the harrowing specifics, Douglas details a childhood marked by trauma, including his mother fleeing, his abusive father locking him in an outdoor pen with dogs used in cage-fighting, and an incident which leaves the use of his legs compromised.

From here, Dogman flashes back and forth a bit, telling the tale of Douglas’ escape from this abusive household, and eventual maturation. He finds refuge at a boys home, where he develops a crush on the drama teacher, Salma (Grace Palma), who instills in him a love of Shakespeare before moving on to other occupational opportunities.


As a young man, Douglas takes up residence in an abandoned industrial park, where he cobbles together an existence funded by freelance pet adoption placement and donations from benefactors he helps protect from organized crime (yes, seriously), before eventually training his dogs to commit high-end burglaries (again, seriously). He also finds a sense of community at a nightclub where drag and trans performers sing.

Distilled to a single overarching criticism, the problem with Dogman is that there’s not much about the film that feels particularly grounded, or realistic. Its story, despite the colorful accoutrements, feels lab-designed from a certain checklist (gender-fluid representation: check, trauma excavation: check), and Besson’s film operates and unfolds in a very literal, causal manner, tracing almost every action back to a corresponding deprivation or mistreatment.

In this regard, it feels like — in a small and perhaps even subconscious way — the movie is making the case that, well, certain behaviors can sometimes be excused. Even the setting itself, as previously mentioned, feels weirdly false or incongruous — less relevant to the story being told than perhaps some offscreen production incentive.

Cinematographer Colin Wandersman generally handles the movie’s canine stagings fairly well; well-trained pups of several different breeds convincingly contribute to the sense of a loving “family” for Douglas. But much of the movie evinces a cramped and unappealing visual aesthetic. Dominated by medium close-ups that give off the vibe of a rushed television production, the film’s shot selection for the most part doesn’t elevate its storytelling.

Dogman Venice Film Festival

That said, every once in a while, Besson still has the ability to pull off a genuinely mesmeric sequence, as he does here with a performance montage set to “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”

What mostly recommends Dogman, though, is simply the performance of Jones, an actor and musician (he’s released three albums) who’s come to specialize in memorably tightly wound roles. In disparate projects from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Outpost to Twin Peaks: The Return and Nitram — for the latter of which he received the Best Actor Award at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival — Jones has shown an ability to crawl inside the head of characters uncomfortable with and even downright hostile to the various worlds they find themselves in, and communicate that inner rancor. He does that again here, breathing three-dimensionality into Douglas — even if, as written, the part is a bit silly.

The ferociousness of Jones’ quiet commitment, along with the extra-textual intrigue the movie’s plotting and framing offer up, combine to make Dogman interesting — and certainly never boring. Of course, calling it actually good might be something of a stretch.

Dogman review by Brent Simon

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Our Rating


The ferociousness of Jones’ quiet commitment, along with the extra-textual intrigue the movie’s plotting and framing offer up, combine to make Dogman interesting — and certainly never boring. Of course, calling it actually good might be something of a stretch.

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