Director Matteo Garrone continues his quest to make the bleakest and most depressing crime movies in the history of Italy with Dogman. Unlike his previous Cannes and Criterion approved Gomorrah, this isn’t a broad and sweeping portrait of the greasy thrills and faded dreams of an Italian criminal empire, but a simple portrait of two men loaded with symbolic weight. On a certain level, it’s simple to the point of being cartoonish (little goof vs. big bully). A character study of a kind, weak, and tiny man named Marcello (Marcello Fonte), whose humane virtues are flaws in a cruel world. He’s contrasted against violent, dumb, selfish hunk of muscle named Simoncino (Edoardo Pesce). One is liked in the community, yet endlessly disrespected and easily manipulated. One is loathed, yet commands unearned respect through mouth yelling and fist smashing. No points awarded for guessing who is who or if the story has a happy ending.
On a superficial level, Dogman almost feels a little too obvious and blunt in its narrative and message. Yet, Garrone overcomes those easy criticisms through craft and character. The performances are remarkable (especially from the fairly unknown Fonte, whom the filmmaker clearly built the project around), the world is painfully real and the setting is almost a character all its own (a rusted out former tourist trap beach long ago left to rot in the name of progress).
The twisted moral fable packs a punch and Garrone levels all his misery with enough bleak humour to avoid tumbling into misery porn. It’s not often that you see a brutal crime film that values empathy and kindness, even if it’s designed to prove how fruitless such virtues feel in the real world. An ideal tale for anyone who has ever felt small or bullied, A.K.A. almost everyone.