This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
Two teenagers. Two individuals with contrasting social backgrounds. One life-changing road trip to the north of England. This is the story of Black Dog.
Our main protagonists? The first person: Nathan (Jamie Flatters) desires to run away from his foster home to reunite with his long-lost sister, and the second person: Sam (Keenan Munn-Francis) encompasses his own very private reasons for partaking in the remarkable road trip. Both friends reunite years after their early school years due to Nathan saving Sam from a frightening mugging. Over the course of the narrative, the central pair learn about each other through the trials and tribulations that occur in this collaborative journey.
As this was in the competition this year for the First Feature award that honours the best directorial debut, George Jaques' first time in the directing forte really excels. Whilst limited in budget, Jaques seizes this opportunity for tender and distinct characterisation. The primary strength of Black Dog is its concentration on the trivial. This is an aspect that is enriched into the core of this grouping between two vastly different teenagers. There are dramatic events that certainly shape the motivations, but a large portion is advocated through Nathan and Sam's interactions, banter, and nonchalant interactions. Their own perspectives and inspirations on why they are traveling to the North in the first place, become fully fleshed based on how their interactions are delicately conveyed.
Alongside fantastic characterisation comes the next core ingredient: the acting. With a story that is predominantly dependent on subtleties and chemistry, this can either make or break the film. However, with great success, Jamie Flatters and Keenan Munn-Francis are outstanding as Nathan and Sam respectively. Throughout the story, both actors express countless emotions and emphasise naturalistic three-dimensional personas so convincingly that they make it seem effortless. Flatters and Munn-Francis despite being newcomers in acting, positively establish that they are superb talents to look out for in the future. Their characterisations of Nathan and Sam are both distinctive and accomplish more than the pure basics.
Although the thorough characterisation and the incredible acting absolutely construct a wonderful narrative, at some moments the narrative becomes a tad forced. While the principal trip Nathan and Sam embark on is delightfully poignant, occasionally certain parts feel a touch superfluous. Particular character motives and ideals between Nathan and Sam are not revealed until the last third. It almost appears as if certain storyline beats emerge when the script requests them rather than occurring naturally. Instead of portraying and sticking with such a realistic tone throughout, these plot elements feel nearly withheld until the required scenes.
Despite this one flaw with this film, Black Dog is an excellent and exciting debut from George Jaques. Showcasing a bond between two vastly distinct teenagers and one life-affirming yet epic road trip, Black Dog is a funny, alluring, and significantly heartfelt odyssey that is one to look out for when it receives its general release.
Black Dog played at this year's BFI London Film Festival.