A decade after his breakout film, the down-and-dirty Neopolitan mafia drama Gomorrah, Italian director Matteo Garrone returns to the country’s violent underworld in Dogman. Only this time, the subject isn’t organized crime, but rather a good man who’s pushed so far, so often that he becomes a ferocious animal himself.
Marcello Fonte plays Marcello, the meek and kindly owner of a dog-grooming shop in a run-down seaside town in the south of Italy. His storefront isn’t much, neither is the rinky-dink operation inside, but he takes a certain amount of pride in his work. He’s divorced, with a young daughter who occasionally helps him bathe and blow-dry his four-legged clients, but he seems happy. And Fonte, with his simpleton’s smile, hawk-like nose, and heavily lidded eyes, makes your heart instantly go out to him even though he’s a bit of a pushover.
This becomes especially clear when a local thug named Simone (played by a menacing, thick-necked Edoardo Pesce) repeatedly shows up to borrow money or score drugs, or just push Marcello around because he can. And Marcello, the holy-fool softie that he is, just takes it, refusing to stand up for himself. He’s like a kicked dog who keeps returning to his master’s side whenever he calls.
As Marcello, Fonte is absolutely fantastic. He’s the best thing in Dogman by leaps and bounds. Garrone captures the setting’s depressed look and spiritual malaise like a documentary filmmaker, but he’s sketchier when it comes to explaining the relationship between Marcello and Simone. You never really understand why Marcello and his fellow business owners put up with Simone’s brutal reign of terror. When the tormenting goon strongarms Marcello into going along with a half-baked robbery of his neighbor’s pawn shop, you never understand why he doesn’t point the finger at Simone instead of taking the fall for him.
Eventually, Marcello won’t be able to take any more. And when his chance at revenge finally comes, it’s almost too late. Which is a shame because Fonte’s performance breaks your heart. Marcello may remain a mystery, but the thing that makes Dogman worth checking out is the actor who portrays him. It’s a performance that never barks too loudly, but leaves you with an unmistakable bite. B-
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