Working-class colleagues struck by sudden unemployment grapple with anxiety, depression, and isolation as they try to cope with their new reality. This is Paul J. Chinook’s debut feature film February’s Dog.
Opening with some lovely images of the Canadian landscape, hope is initially high for February’s Dog, especially when the beautiful establishing shots seamlessly blend into a wonderful tracking shot of the expansive Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Canada, where our two main characters work. The images are striking and immediately bring to mind Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces. The 70’s classic has its stamp all over February’s Dog and it’s a comparison that Chinook, in all his creative facets of acting, writing, and directing seems more than happy to embrace. From his anti-heroic protagonist, who would rather joke than take anything seriously at home, to the working class oil field environments. However, in trying to emulate Five Easy Pieces, the comparison is one that it never really shakes off and that’s a shame because with the Nicholson starrer being such a classic of American cinema, February’s Dog has problems trying to keep up. There is even a brief scene involving a surprising use of a musical instrument, but instead of a piano on a truck, our star uses a guitar on a couch.
Chinook and Kevin Davey play work colleagues Dale and Nigel, who together are embracing the struggle of being productive. They suddenly get a call to come in to see their boss who lays them both off in the nicest way possible. During the meeting, their boss asks both of them to not go too far as they’ll be rehired within 3 months when the economy picks up. Dale takes the news well, treating it as a paid vacation, while Nigel plays things a lot more cautiously. But as the economy steadily declines, joblessness and uncertainty lead to depression and personal crisis.
Chinook’s Dale, although initially pleased to be out of work, becomes a voluntary outcast who begins to find it difficult to return to his real life, but has no possible way to move forward. He’s caught between jobs, identities, ambitions, and social classes. But what differentiates February’s Dog from other movies is that, while most films centre on heroes who define the plot, those in this movie inhabit it and then make it happen. Dale is a character who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere; he’s very rarely comfortable with the people around him and never really feels at home, choosing humour over listening. The movie’s story traces the lives of Dale and Nigel where, in their own mind, they disappoint people, can’t be counted on, and underachieve. Nigel remains in control most of the time but while Dale’s wife overlooks or forgives his flaws, he never really forgives himself.
The cinematography by Jose Luiz Gonzales is excellent, not only in the opening few scenes which were very impressive, but throughout the 87 minutes run time. The external shots capture some real natural beauty of the surroundings, while the blocking and framing enable the audience to keep on top of who is who and what is going on. The script, while not as cutting or powerful as it could be, does get us involved in these people, this time, and this place. We do end up caring for them, even though they never ask for our affection or praise. Keep an eye out for the name of our triple threat, Paul J. Chinook and write it down, it’s going to be a name to remember.
Shay Meche says
This movie is absolutely amazing. Paul did a great job with writing it and it’s very eye opening when it comes down to the real world that we don’t see until it’s too late. 10/10 recommend watching.