A Dog's Purpose
I saw this film recently on a cinema big screen, though it will be just as effective on a small screen, when it is eventually released on DVD. It is part romantic/family drama, and part doggie movie. If you are a dog lover (as I am), you'll like this movie very much. If you're not, then its appeal as a piece of movie-making will be more problematic for you. Personally, I loved it and will even admit to shedding the occasional, discreet, tear. Quite a few dogs die during the course of the story, so a Kleenex box may come in handy, but stay the distance – the film's ending will not disappoint.
Directed by Lassie, er, that is Lasse Hallstrom, veteran Swedish director who cut his teeth on making music videos for Abba and has since made more movies than I've had hot dinners, from a novel of the same name by Bruce Cameron, this film (shot chiefly in Canada) is essentially the story of one dog's soul as reincarnated through several different physical dogs over several decades starting in the 1950s. The various dogs are different breeds (golden retriever, Alsatian, Welsh corgi are the main ones), but are all narrated by the same voice, Josh Gad, not an actor I know much about, but he does well here.
The dog, known by different names to successive owners, lives through a variety of different families and owners: the sometimes-happy country family with a disruptively alcoholic father whose young son, Ethan, bonds closely with our doggie hero and, as he (Ethan) grows up, becomes a central character in the dog's story; a widowed Chicago police officer who is our doggie hero's handler in a violent criminal confrontation; a black girl student who marries her boyfriend and has a happy family life together with our canine companion; and the poverty-stricken, wrong-side-of-the-tracks urban slum family who treat our laddie very badly. All through the movie, the different dogs ask themselves "what are we here for?"
Yet, our furry friend is destined to cross paths again with Ethan, many years later. Now grown into middle age, partially crippled while escaping a burning house, and having separated from his faithful girlfriend, Ethan is a lonely figure, still running the family farm, but bitterly disappointed with life. Then he and the reincarnated dog, who he was so close to back in his childhood, meet up again. It is a turning-point for both of them. It is also the turning-point for the story, us, and the film as a whole.
I thought the director and screenwriters executed the whole story very nicely. Most of the human actors are very good, though relatively unknown in this country. The only actor I recognised was the well-known Dennis Quaid, who does a really good job at playing the middle-aged, disappointed and dispirited Ethan. The dogs are all gorgeous, go through their acting chops very convincingly, and are undoubtedly the film's main attraction.
Some controversy surrounded the making of this movie. Allegations of animal cruelty were levelled at the movie-makers, particularly in the "police dog in turbulent waters" rescue sequence. An alleged unofficial video of the cruelty emerged, but its authenticity was fiercely disputed. A US equivalent of the RSPCA investigated the incident and is reported to have disciplined its representative on the movie set. Some members of the film crew and actors also denied the cruelty allegations. It is unfortunate and sad that a dispute of this sort should besmirch an otherwise very enjoyable film.
My star rating (out of five): * * * * 1/2