At first glance, this movie may seem like yet another pet movie—a guy and his dog on a road trip. And there’s really nothing wrong with that. But there is so much more under the surface with its military setting of soldiers fighting the physical and psychological effects of combat. Channing Tatum stars as Army Ranger Briggs and offers his directorial debut along with producing partner Reid Carolin who wrote and developed the story with Brett Rodriguez. In this comedic drama with underlying emotional struggles, we discover the difficulties of those who serve our country and often sacrifice their lives for our freedom. It’s a nod to our service men and women…and furry companions. Carolin says that essentially it’s the journey of a character who goes from being closed to being open, and it’s the dog who brings Briggs out of himself. Actually, he says, “they rescue each other.”
In this story we meet Briggs, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while on Special Ops and has been off duty ever since. Seeking to find his way back into service during his healing process he’s offered the responsibility to drive Lulu, a traumatized Army Ranger Belgian Malinois who refuses to fly, to the funeral of her former handler, Sergeant Rodriguez, and then on to “rehabilitation.”
They trek down the Pacific Coast 1500 miles in order to make it on time to Arizona for Rodriguez’ funeral. Both Briggs and Lulu face enormous amounts of emotional scars while they try to get along with each other on the journey. Lulu comes with an “I love me book,” or owner’s manual, that is actually used in the military. Rodriguez took pictures of Lulu and noted her accomplishments in combat, including a DVD of her “best moments” that Briggs puts on to calm her anxiety.
It’s especially entertaining when Lulu breaks from her cage taking off on the side of the road to a cannabis farm, tears Brigg’s car seats to shreds, or attacks his water bottle while driving. The longer they remain together the more they begin to trust each other. They even spend a night in a fancy hotel without paying as Briggs pretends to be a blind wounded warrior and uses Lulu as his military seeing eye dog to get a free suite. When Lulu takes off in the hotel lobby toward a man in Middle Eastern garb, Briggs runs after her and exclaims, “Oh my God, I can see!” His antics land him in jail.
Lulu isn’t the only one with problems. Briggs has his own anxiety triggers that lead to seizure-like episodes. He also has a small daughter whom he rarely sees. Along the journey, they stop at a former military dog trainer who helps Briggs relate to Lulu. Seeing Brigg’s mental struggles, the trainer becomes his spiritual advisor by challenging Briggs to find someone to talk to—even God. He says, “You need to pick something at some point to talk to.” He talks to Lulu, airing out his pains, challenges, and hopes.
For soldiers who are scarred by war, Carolin says, “Their dogs are essential to help them heal and have meaning in life,” helping them “transition from one life [combat] to the next [civilian].” These soldiers carry scars, he says, and for them to integrate into civilian life, “the dog helps them do this with grace.” Tatum says that Briggs is helped by Lulu to find life’s meaning and purpose. He says, “She saves his life.”
Except for a weird and problematic scene when Briggs encounters two New Age Therapists who help people discover their sexual energies, almost leading to a threesome encounter, the film is generally entertaining. But mostly the film reveals the situation of many veterans who suffer PTSD or other physical and emotional scars. It elicits compassion, understanding, and support of those who sacrifice themselves for freedom. As Briggs learns to relate to Lulu, he also discovers his ability to relate to those who are most important in his life. He learns to connect. We need other human beings in our lives and dogs can help, though are not replacements of human interaction. They can be our catalyst for self-discovery.
Photo credits: Channing Tatum stars as Briggs and Lulu the Belgian Malinois in DOG A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film "DOG" © 2022. All rights reserved.