Directed By Simon Curtis
Starring – Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, Kevin Costner
The Plot – Dog lovers believe their canine family members understand language, comprehend events, have opinions, exude loyalty. In “The Art of Racing In The Rain”, wise old dog Enzo Swift shares thoughts about the life experiences which prepared him to protect his family in times of greatest need.
Rated PG for thematic material
– Refreshing changes. For a film surrounding a dog as its central protagonist, the lack of meandering emotional manipulation and pointless narration was something that was much appreciated from the drivel of canine films of the past three years, that sometimes beat us over the head with what we’re already seeing. There is narration from Costner all over this movie, but his incorporation vividly fills in the blanks for the psychology of Enzo, choosing to attack his character from a mental level instead of a physical one, which as I said, can sometimes feels reflective of what’s transpiring on-screen. This is also a film that takes its time to earn the many tonal shifts that the story takes us through, giving us ample time with both the human and canine elements of this environment, that succeeds in allowing us to invest on every character dynamic.
– The drama. It’s difficult to make a cold heart like me tear-up, but this film saves its impactful ammunition for the moments it hits the hardest, giving us a balance of human and canine conflicts that sting ever so effectively. This doesn’t make the story unpredictable by any stretch of the imagination, but rather caters to life’s many unpleasant twists and turns that throw a wrench during the occasions when everything feels perfect. To anyone who read the book, you should know that the film’s ending is very similar, and does tread the unpleasant waters that clutched this critic’s rhythmic breathing into an explosion of emotional downpour. Without buying into the characters, this element wouldn’t stand on its four legs, but we really do wish for the well-being of this evolving family, who feel constantly tested behind every act that the film navigates through.
– Make-up/prosthetics. I certainly didn’t expect this out of “The Art of Racing In the Rain”, but one of its strongest qualities visually comes from the decaying influence on one particular character, that progresses naturally from a believable standpoint. Nothing is truly extraordinary in terms of tools for the trade, but the subtle pale glow of cosmetics given to drastically alter a character’s skin tone, as well as the decision to go practical with hair loss, instead of using head caps, is something that not only benefits the dedication of craft from this particular actor, but also allows the appearance of them to not feel gimmicked up to the point of the feelings of the scene getting lost in the obviousness of the costume. It keeps the focus solely where it belongs, and proves that less is more when articulating aging or decaying in a character’s appearance.
– Show-stealer. Who else but Costner could do more in a gruff vocal range than any of the actors and actresses do with valuable screen time? But the work of this grizzled vet adds a degree of personality to the dog without settling for silly to compromise the majesticism of the character. Kevin’s Enzo is a protector, a thrill-seeker, and most of all a student of life, and throughout a series of learning experiences for the dog, Costner’s familiar sentimentality rings true in highlighting the love preserved in the atmosphere of the story. Ventimiglia and Seyfried hand in solid turns as well, but with Costner in the forefront, his dedicated grip on the film becomes a necessity, and we quickly start to comprehend how Costner made this role his own, instead of using it as another clown job to orchestrate how dogs are mischievous.
– A different approach. What I love about Enzo is this degree of tragedy to his character, which outlines dogs as being cursed in the shell of their abilities. Throughout the film, Enzo mentions how he’s unable to say or do what should be needed in the heat of a particular event, and it keeps the film’s expectations grounded in reality, instead of another dog trying to be Lassie, and saving little Timmy in a well. Beyond this, it’s thought-provoking in the way we view animals, because our actions towards them do in fact have a consequence in how they interpret them, and it made for one scene in particular that might just explain why your house is destroyed when you leave your pets alone for a long time. “The Art of Racing In the Rain” explores creativity, and does so with several point-of-view perspectives that hint at the nagging disconnect between dog and owner, that makes miscommunication an inevitability.
– Not a kids movie. From Curtis’ sense of sadness that perseveres throughout the tonal capacity of the picture, to the underlying sense of optimism attained even after these moments of sadness, the film feels mature (Minus one poop joke with sounds and unflattering visual) in its desire to craft a dog film that requires a few more years of wisdom from its audience to properly sell its poignant themes. Keep in mind, this is a PG rated movie, so the material itself isn’t testing or even remotely daring in its approach, but I do feel that older audiences who understand the frailty and emotional attachment to an animal better will gain more from a movie like this.
– Horrible Green-screen. What a glaring negative for a movie whose production values worked during an array of racing sequences. The benefit comes from these beautiful long-takes that show Italian automobiles weaving in and out of the race track, but the negatives come each time the film cuts to inside of the car, showing a lack of direction not only on the weight instilled by the actors in what they’re reacting to, but also on this obvious texture of difference in color pallet that is depicted behind him. If this were once or twice, I could overlook it, but the same unappealing manipulation is a stable of these otherwise intense race sequences, relying too often in the muddling of cinematic effects instead of putting the actor front-and-center in the heat of the moment.
– Sappy dialogue. The over-abundance of racing metaphors throughout the film made me constantly roll my eyes, and soiled scenes of sentimentality with this poisonous cloud of Hallmark sap that overstays its welcome about a half hour into the film. At first it’s unique how the screenwriter compares life to a race track, with all of its twists and turns, as well as desire to keep driving through the rain, but after it’s repeated so much, I nearly shouted out in the theater “I GET IT!!!”. I haven’t had a problem with sports metaphors this badly since “Why Did I Get Married Too” from 2014, and while this film doesn’t stretch its metaphors nearly as far as Kevin Hart did in that film, it goes to the well far too often in reminding audiences of its sport in focus, supplanting a frustrating amount of track quips that tried their hardest to ruin the film’s heavy drama.
– Uneven pacing. This film moves like a breeze during the first half, taking us through Enzo’s initial years and family additions in a way that practically makes them an afterthought on what’s important. As for the second half, the film dramatically slows down and takes too much time on a particular court case, that while is a huge conflict for this man trying to keep everything together, does take up far too many minutes, cutting into the ending, which returns to the first half progression in terms of being rushed. What’s worse is this major conflict introduces us to an antagonist grandfather, who screams of cinematic obviousness in the same way Thanos did when he showed up at the end of an Avengers movie. He has these outlandish lines and abrupt character judgments that don’t feel believable in the least, and take away too often from the honesty of life that so much of the movie felt concerned with illustrating.
– Small things. There are a couple of things that play out in scenes that bothered me from a logical perspective. The first, a duo of cop characters who arrest a character without reading them their Miranda Rights or even addressing to them why they are under arrest in the first place. These are either the worst cops ever, or things are run dramatically different in Seattle, Washington. In addition to this, the film suffers from that overall lack of lived-in feeling from a series of pictures within the houses that show nothing of an aging process to make these feel something other than photographs that were taken merely moments before the director yelled “Action!!”. The last one involves spoilers, so I will say SPOILERS. DO NOT GO FORWARD. In the thought process of reincarnation, does names carry over from one life to the next. I knew a character would be reincarnated because the movie mentions it frequently throughout, but I didn’t expect this character to have the exact same name in their next life. Even for a coincidence, this is stretched further than Ventimiglia’s quivering lip in scenes of anger.
My Grade: 6/10 or C