Starring Brian Stillar and Tony Adah. Unrated. Plays Sunday to Wednesday, February 18 to 21, at the Vancity Theatre
Thank God there are filmmakers like Terrance Odette around. His no-compromise low-budget aesthetics and gnarly compassion for his down-on-their-luck protagonists are qualities that seem endangered these days.
Sleeping Dogs continues the formally rambling but emotionally tight nature of his 1999 breakthrough, Heater, after a mild misstep with Saint Monica, which attempted more whimsy than its slim story could sustain. Here, in fact, the story is even simpler and the time frame shorter than those of the losers who wandered around wintry Winnipeg in Heater.
In Sleeping Dogs, Brian Stillar, as an angry diabetic blind man, and Tony Adah, as the immigrant orderly sent to find him when the older man walks away from hospital treatment, are not quite up to the level of Heater’s Gary Farmer and Stephen Ouimette. But Odette isn’t too interested in technical fireworks, whether from actors or camera moves, although these are generally up to the task. (There’s also an unexpectedly rootsy soundtrack.)
Dogs is limited to a single day in the lives of some rather ordinary people, and there is painful truth (and some tediousness) to their peregrinations around the uglier reaches of Kitchener-Waterloo, the writer-director’s hometown. We are left to figure out what’s going on between the bitter patient, Mr. Gloss, and his younger brother Eddy (K. Alan Sapp), who’s due to take him out of the hospital that day—in fact to a long-term-care facility not of his choosing.
Gloss is pretty pissed off about this, like most things, but what really gets him going—right out the back door—is the news that his bro has arranged to have his faithful dog put down. “You mean they’re going to insult him?” Jarrod asks, half-jokingly. “Like, ”˜Bad dog’?” Of course, this cranky patient feels like a sick old mutt himself, and he heads out into the feeble sunshine in search of”¦well, booze, or oblivion, or maybe the local pound.
After him goes disorganized orderly Thomas (Adah), a handsome African-born man conspicuously avoiding the fact that his father has just died. (We don’t know where or why, just that Thomas won’t call home.) He’s supposed to find Gloss and bring him back, which is not an easy mission. When they do meet up, this odd couple doesn’t bond exactly, but they do at least struggle to get out of a hellish suburban development that has them both baffled. The viewer is left wondering what new turn each will take when the day finally ends.
In short, there’s nothing here for people who like their movies loud, colourful, and tidy. But there’s plenty for folks who find life interesting the way it is—with a little something extra.