Not since director Nate Parker’s sexual assault charges from 1999 surfaced with the release of his film The Birth of a Nation has there been so much controversy and called for boycotts. When a video of a struggling dog being forced into turbulent water for a scene in A Dog’s Purpose surfaced on TMZ the outrage began. It has pretty much overshadowed the film itself. Due to the controversy the Los Angeles premiere of the film was cancelled. That being said, no matter what my opinions are on the matter, my job is to review the film on its merits.
Bottom line is that is a very average film who’s only purpose seems to be to tug on your heartstrings in a very obvious way. There is nothing inherently wrong with a sad or poignant film. The problem occurs when the film veers towards the manipulative. Don’t get me wrong, I am an animal lover, but this was not the best example of a film centered around people’s relationships with their dogs. I am most certainly not the type that is above animal films.
Director Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) has made several films about animals including Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (also starring Dennis Quaid) and My Life as a Dog. This one is based upon the best-selling novel by W. Bruce Cameron and tells the tale of a dog (voiced by Josh Gad) who gets older, dies then keeps being reincarnated in the form of another dog. A dog who is trying to figure out its purpose.
If you have ever been the owner of a dog then you can understand the attachment that the owners in this film feel towards their dog. The entire film is an affirmation of the human-dog relationship. Filmed in a visually appealing way by Hallstrom.
Watching films involving animals has always been problematic for me because I sit there tense throughout fearing that something awful will happen to the animal. While there are definitely sad moments throughout, nothing truly awful happens here. Most of the time it is a warm and fuzzy film. Overly sentimental if you want to be totally accurate. That means you can brings young people to the film without traumatizing them too much. They do have to be old enough to deal with the repeated deaths of the dog involved though. Definitely a film that was made with those in mind who complain that they don’t make this old fashioned style of film anymore.
Everything about the film is rather broad whether it bee the humour or sadness. Nothing is done delicately making the emotional aspects as big as the broad side of a barn. That allows Hallstrom and the film to keep away from tricky questions like if dog reincarnation happens why was Bailey “born” in Michigan in the 1950s? How come it seems like Bailey is the only dog or animal that can talk? Anything with depth of this sorts is avoided entirely.
Another inescapable reality about the film is that you cannot, as much as you try, get the image of that German Shepard struggling against being put in the water out of your head as you are watching the film. Whatever chance it had to have an impact on you dies there.