Stray Dog (2015) - Debra Granik
Debra Granik's Stray Dog is an intimate portrait of Ron "Stray Dog" Hall, an aging biker, veteran, and RV park manager who lives in southern Missouri. Being that her last directorial effort was Winter's Bone, I was very curious to see what Debra Granik's Stray Dog was all about, and what becomes apparent very fast after watching the film is Granik's ability to find an incredible subject for a film that is both intimate character study and larger examination of America's treatment of veterans. When first introduced to the viewer, Ron "Stray Dog" Hall feels more like a walking caricature that you would see in a political cartoon in the New Yorker of middle america- a gun-toting, moonshine drinking, tattooed biker, whose leather jacket completely tops it off. What makes Stray Dog so well executed is how Debra Granik slowly reveals the true man under the surface, behind the stereotypes, a man who has been forever changed by serving his country during Vietnam. This is a man who is forced to come to terms with himself on a daily basis, attempting to hide from the horror he has experienced. Being this type of documentary the subject is very important, and luckly Debra Granik knocks it out the park, also showing an ability to capture subtle moments of weakness, sadness, and tragedy in a man who is trying to hard to be the best person he can be. Ron "Stray Dog" Hall has the presence of a man who has lived and been and through a lot, a man who is haunted by his days serving in Vietnam where the death and violence he caused in battle have lead him to believe he isn't a good person. Stray Dog is a portrait of a man who can't forgive himself, being a powerful expose of the suffering many soldiers experience from what they went through, revealing how non-veterans simply can't understand the horror some of these men went through serving their country. Of course what is one of the most infuriating aspects of the film is how many of these men are abandoned and feel left behind by their country, with Ron "Stray Dog" Hall being a major driving force in various initiatives to make sure veterans are helping other veterans, doing all he can to help people even though he at times struggles to forgive himself. Stray Dog captures how Hall in many respects still lives the life of a soldier, only using what is necessary, a simplistic yet resourceful mindset that only partaking in what is indispensable. Debra Granik's Stray Dog reveals a man of true character who offers guidance and warmth to everyone around him, not letting the fact that he has been through so much interfere with helping others. Directed with nuance and grace, Stray Dog is one of the more fascinating "human study" documentaries I've seen in awhile.
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