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Caleb Landry Jones Shines in “DogMan”

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 27th, 2024

DogMan (Luc Besson, 2023) 3½ out of 5 stars

The last film I saw by French sci-fi/action auteur Luc Besson was his 2017 Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I did not like it. Nor did I particularly love his 2014 Lucy (though parts of the film have slightly grown on me since). So it comes as something of a surprise to me that his latest, DogMan, is not terrible. Far from it. In fact, it has a certain “je ne sais quoi,” though what that is, exactly, I am not sure. In any case, it is very watchable.

Much of the appeal comes down to two factors, both involving on-camera performances. First, there is Caleb Landry Jones (Nitram), as Douglas (aka Doug), the titular oddball. And then there are his many canine companions, who fill the screen with gripping intensity and cuddly charisma (even as they sometimes do terrible things). It’s truly an amazing cast.

Caleb Landry Jones in DOGMAN ©Briarcliff Entertainment

Starting with Jones, who mesmerizes as a man whom we first meet in drag (it will later become clear that it’s a Marilyn Monroe wig and outfit), covered in blood and at the wheel of what looks like a mail truck, the cargo area filled with pooches. His line delivery is engagingly precise and bizarre, peppered with references to Shakespeare. He’s also in a wheelchair, his legs encased in tight braces.

We learn his violent history courtesy of a police psychologist, Evelyn (Jojo T. Gibbs, Something from Tiffany’s), brought in to assess his mental health. After all, his destroyed domicile, discovered after his arrest, is a frightening scene of mass carnage. Only a psychopath could be responsible for the mess, right? We’ll soon find out.

l-r: Jojo T. Gibbs and Caleb Landry Jones in DOGMAN ©Briarcliff Entertainment

And so the story proceeds in prolonged flashbacks from which we return to the present, at intervals. Evelyn has her own problems, so it seems, which tangentially brush up against Doug’s particular skill set. The joy of the movie is discovering exactly what those skills may be and how Doug became the person he became.

This being a Besson film, there is a lot of violence. The good news is that somehow the worst of it never comes back to bite the dogs. Instead, they do all the biting, on command.

A truck full of dogs in DOGMAN ©Briarcliff Entertainment

Quite a bit of the narrative does not hold together. Indeed, true three-dimensional depth of protagonists has often eluded this director. But he does have quite a sense of style (he came of age in the “Cinéma du Look,” after all), and goes far beyond his recent cinematic forays in this intriguing character sketch, delivering real pathos and well-earned emotion. DogMan may be an uneven mystery, but Landry speaks from the heart.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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