Dogman (Matteo Garrone, 2018) 2½ out of 4 stars.
The best part of Matteo Garrone’s Dogman are the moments of pure behavioral acting, especially in the scenes between actor Marcello Fonte (L’intrusa) and his canine charges. Fonte plays the eponymous Marcello, a slight wisp of a man who has found his vocation, after years of forbearance among bullies, as a dog groomer and boarder. He is in his perfect element among them, and Fonte seems to be, as well, from the opening shot where he calms a snarling pit bull in a bath to his gentle handling of the smallest breeds. As a character study, Dogman has many fine moments, director Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah) displaying an astute sense of nuance in human and animal, alike.
Unfortunately, the story is not always up to the mise-en-scène, though it starts out well. Marcello, who moonlights as a cocaine dealer, runs into trouble after his hulking (and coke-addicted) friend Simoncino (Edoardo Pesce, God Willing), forces him to cooperate in a messy heist, the evidence from which points clearly to Marcello. The consequences thereof force Marcello to act, lest he lose everything, including the daughter he loves even more than his dogs. So far, so good, but the resultant violent conclusion strains disbelief; it’s also very unsatisfying after all the great set-up.
Still, there is much to appreciate here, and the whole is beautifully shot in and around the coastal regions near Rome and Naples. It may ultimately end with a whimper, rather than a growl, but the marvelous Fonte holds our attention, throughout. He invests Dogman with an emotional vibrancy that buoys it past the weaknesses of script. See it for him, the pups, and the gorgeous cinematography.
In Italian with English subtitles