‘Dogs’ Review: Fish Out of Water

The city boy Roman (Dragos Bucur) is lured into the Romanian outback when he inherits 550 hectares of land from his recently deceased grandfather, a local “godfather” figure not terribly unlike those popularized by Mario Puzo. Though Roman arrives with the intention of quickly selling the miserable property for some extra cash, his sojourn is upended when a group of thugs headed by the smug, sinister Samir (Vlad Ivanov) come to play.

A neo-western crime thriller in the grim, nihilistic vein of “No Country for Old Men,” “Dogs,” by the filmmaker Bogdan Mirica, sees Roman thrown into a violent, lawless arena with only a dilapidated shack as his fortress.

His grandfather’s guard dog, a mangy mutt named Police, winkingly calls attention to the near-absence of law enforcement around these parts, while the two-man law enforcement squad, led by the aging Hogas (Gheorghe Visu), mostly turns a blind eye to the illicit activities afoot. It’s common knowledge, after all, that Roman has stumbled upon a property used for moonlit confrontations and the disposal of body parts — such as the dismembered foot we glimpse in the deceptively serene opening tracking shot.

Indeed, human brutality unfolds against a backdrop of pastoral quietude, with the film’s most evocative moments making use of negative space — shadowy showdowns and unnervingly empty expanses of wildlife captured in wide screen — as well as startling sounds that break through the eerie silence.

Yet “Dogs” doesn’t go much deeper than the platitude that seems to inspire its title — presenting as it does a merciless dog-eat-dog world without generating ideas of its own that might distinguish it from similar Wild West fare. One can imagine how the particularities of the Romanian bush might yield novel dynamics. Instead, “Dogs” underplays these elements and commits to the beats of the slow burn thriller in mostly generic form.

Not rated. In Romanian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. In theaters.

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