Man’s Best Friend is a gripping tale. Paul Landings (DJ Perry), a wounded Marine veteran afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, finds comfort in the dogs that he struggles to care for. His struggle is financial—he takes in dogs that would otherwise be euthanized, but the cost causes him to fall behind on his rent—and it’s also emotional—the dogs minister to him like service dogs, and he treats them more like combat comrades. He introduces each dog he rescues to the other dogs as “a new recruit.” As his number of recruits multiplies, so does the opposition. Paul is a Marine, and no Marine worth his salt leaves a fellow soldier behind on the battlefield, so he can’t just let them be euthanized. The mayor and the city council cite Paul for having too many dogs, and the sheriff warns him that the city will step in and remove them if he doesn’t. Thus the conflict begins to brew.
Complicating matters is the mayor’s son, Charlie Sawyer (David Michael Reardon), the star quarterback for the local high school football team, but a bit of a bully who gets his kicks by mistreating those he thinks won’t or can’t fight back. He throws rocks at Paul and calls him names as Paul walks a dog in the park. Things come to a head when Charlie sees the sheriff deliver the citation to Paul. Charlie gets his little brother, Wyatt (Walker Fairbanks), to lure Paul away from his house by telling Paul that there’s a dog in need of rescue in the park. While Paul’s off to save the dog, his house goes up in flames and Charlie and his friends taunt Paul about a fire before Paul can get home to see the damage. Many of the dogs Paul cared for die in the fire, and Paul goes looking for the taunters. He uses his Marine fighting skills to avenge his four-legged best friends. Payback is swift and severe—Paul’s beating leaves Charlie paralyzed and his other friends injured.
The mayor wants Paul prosecuted to the full extent of his mayoral fury, whether it’s legal or not, and Paul goes on trial for attempted murder. Meanwhile, a conscience-stricken Wyatt confesses to his father that Charlie orchestrated the arson. The mayor slaps Wyatt and orders the son to keep his mouth shut. Wyatt may rhyme with quiet, but he’s not. He contacts Paul’s lawyer (played by Happy Days alum Don Most) to testify against his big brother. That’s not the last twist in this tale that’s sure to tug at the heartstrings of dog lovers and Marine lovers alike.
The movie also features a compelling cameo from Bobby Henline, a real-life soldier who lost his left hand and suffered burns to 38 percent of his body because of a roadside bomb in 2007, during his fourth tour of Iraq. He turned his personal tragedy into a post-war career in comedy. “It took four tours [of Iraq] for me to learn my lucky number was three,” Henline likes to joke. But his appearance here isn’t comic relief; it adds an authentic gravitas to the subject matter. Man’s Best Friend is also sure to make you think about justice, compassion and the integrity it takes to do the right thing. The overall message is worthy of Dove approval, but for Ages 12+ due to some mild language and violence concerns.
The Dove Take:
Both dogs and Marines are said to always be faithful—semper fi—and this movie examines how that faithfulness is often (unfortunately) rewarded.