Dean Spanley (2008)

This certainly proved to be something completely different from the norm, and nothing at all like what I was expecting. By the synopsis I knew it was going to about reincarnation in some way but it still didn’t prepare me for a period movie set in Britain, where the plot revolves heavily on Sam Neill getting intoxicated with Tokay wine on multiple occasions and then recounting his past life… as a dog. And not just any dog, but the dog from Peter O’Toole’s character’s childhood. And that the revelation and the resulting burst of emotion ended up being one the few truly moving cinematic experiences I’ve had in the entire year. And this was only after I had preemptively dismissed the movie at the one hour mark to be kinda forgettable and painfully mediocre. Even now I have trouble getting my head around the entire ordeal. The movie is so slow and doesn’t really seem to be going anywhere for the longest time yet the the last quarter it suddenly becomes a positively incredible emotional tour de force. It’s uncanny.

The cast is pretty great. While I didn’t really care one way or another about Jeremy Northam’s performance, he was just bland rather than genuinely awful. Meanwhile Sam Neill, playing the titular role, was remarkably charming. He could talk about being a dog with a completely straight face and make it be absolutely mesmerizing, where you were captivated by every sentence coming from his mouth. Bryan Brown of the F/X fame was also very enjoyable as the friendly procurer of items, who supplies the story the many bottles of Hungarian Imperial Tokay wine that works as the central plot device to get Sam Neill in touch with his memories from his previous life. Peter O’Toole on the other hand was not just good, he was phenomenal. He honestly steals the entire show. I genuinely found myself at tears when the big revolution about the final fate of his dog, Wag, dawns on him and he for the first time in the movie opens up emotionally and it’s like a dam has busted open. It was incredibly touching to witness him to come to terms with the loss of his dead son, of whose demise he hadn’t shown to give much thought up until that moment. The following heartbreak and crushing sadness that appears to his face…. it was absolutely devastating to watch.

You might call it a bit of a hidden gem, as it really doesn’t seem to be talked much anywhere. It’s a wonderfully sad, sentimental tear-jerker that is guaranteed to gut punch even the most cynical of us. It takes its time to get there, but when it’s ready to launch its emotional tornado at you, no amount of cold-heartedness will save you. You will be moved.

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