Movie Review - White God

Take James Franco in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Replace Franco with a plucky little girl in a blue hoodie and a preference for playing the trumpet and replace the apes in that 2011 film with dogs, and you basically have this gritty, foreign film.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was about a non-human animal who gets singled out, falls in love with its human owner, but then gets separated from that human, imprisoned and horribly mistreated. That animal then breaks out that prison, rallies other animals and runs a muck through the city streets. That's essentially this movie.

Instead of rampaging through the streets of San Francisco, this movie rampages through the streets of Budapest. There's an absence of science-fiction and big-budget spectacle. Yet, this movie doesn't have as powerful an emotional arc. Namely, the human stuff isn't as compelling here as in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which had human stuff that was almost always ridiculous.

Zsófia Psotta stars as Lili, the aforementioned, human owner of the animal in question. She's the less plucky and more angst-ridden, little girl in a blue hoodie on a bicycle and a preference for trumpet-playing. Once she becomes separated from her dog, a mixed-breed labrador named Hagen, the movie cuts back-and-forth between what she does by herself and what the dog does by himself.

However, once that happens, all the stuff with Lili by herself is less compelling or less interesting than the stuff with Hagen. It's almost to the point that I wish director and co-writer Kornél Mundruczó would have completely dropped the stuff with Lili and never show her again.

Unlike other films that have followed animals, real animals, whether fiction or non-fiction, such as The Adventures of Milo and Otis, there is no narration or voice-over to clue the audience to what the dog is thinking. The wordless expressions and actions are enough to convey all the necessary information. The adventure that this dog has is in that regard wonderfully portrayed, including moments of danger from dog-catchers and dogfight trainers, as well as moments of compassion like with a Jack Russell Terrier.

The signature scenes are the ones where the film wrangles not one or two or even a dozen but what looks like hundreds of dogs running and acting together. Just in terms of scale, it's impressive to see, but in reality it's not that spectacular. One scene where the horde of dogs attack a guy has only a shot of the dogs charging toward the camera. The actual attack isn't shown.

There are other scenes where the dogs attack, but it's not as much of a knockout as Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It's quickly realized that it's basically just shots of the dogs running in mass. The climax or final third of this film isn't that great either. Even though it was made 50 years ago, there is no attack as visceral or truly terrifying as the attacks in The Birds (1963), even with its bad special effects.

After premiering at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and winning a couple of awards there, this film became the official submission for the 87th Academy Awards from Hungary. It got a limited release back in March and is now streaming on Netflix.

Recommended one checks out Cujo (1983) and Man's Best Friend (1993).

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violent content including bloody images, and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 1 min.


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