This film’s title refers to the dogs that were left homeless in Bucharest, Romania when dictator Ceausescu decided to level the city and rebuild it in his vision. After years of unchecked breeding, these stray dogs number in the thousands. Director Thom Fitzgerald (The Hanging Garden) uses scenes of the dogs snarling and fighting as a metaphor for human behaviour. It’s a bit heavy handed perhaps, but given the setting and nature of the story it seems appropriate enough. Fitzgerald weaves several plot lines together – an ineffectual dog-catcher (Mihai Calota) fears he will lose his job; a decadent ambassador (David Hayman) takes advantage of his position of power, while his pampered wife (Alberta Watson) begins to understand the crushing poverty that exists all around her and a pornographer (Fitzgerald) comes to town to search for inexpensive models to photograph. It’s a complex narrative, and Fitzgerald almost manages to bring it all together. There is a feeling that shards of the story are left dangling and the themes of redemption that are sprinkled throughout seem a bit too tidy, but by an large it works. My main complaint is the casting of Fitzgerald in the lead role of the pornographer. He simply isn’t a strong enough actor to convey the emotional arc that his character goes through. For the movie to work we must believe that this is a man who could make his living taking naked pictures of underage girls, and could then realize the evil of his ways and change into a decent guy. Fitzgerald simply never convinced me that there was a transformation happening internally – his performance is all surface. I found myself wondering what a more accomplished actor might do with this role. Don McKellar or Tom McCamus could have pulled this off, but I would have liked to seen Callum Keith Rennie take on the part. He has the toughness to make us believe he could be involved in something unsavoury and the acting chops show us the character’s salvation. The Wild Dogs is still a powerful piece of work, just not as affecting as it could be.
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