Documentary “Stray Dog” begins at RiverRun today

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Screens Friday at 1 p.m. at Hanesbrands, Saturday at 1 p.m. at UNCSA Gold and April 19 at 10 a.m. at UNCSA Gold. Film editor Tory Stewart will be in attendance for all screenings.

by Eric Ginsburg

Stray Dog

This incredibly intimate portrait of Stray Dog, a battle-scarred Vietnam veteran and biker living in Missouri, is anything but predictable. Director Debra Granik sets it up from the beginning with an opening shot full of swagger and humor as Stray Dog and his friend dance casually in a Dollar General parking lot.

Stray Dog is a documentary in the cinema verite style — no narration, nobody directly addressing the camera and no audible questions from the filmmakers. The kind of people who talk a lot during movies, asking questions like, “Wait, who is she?” should stay at home. But the style is tremendously effective, shrinking the distance between subject and viewer even if it takes a while to determine exactly who everybody is.

Stray Dog takes a hard look at the trauma its protagonist endured while at war, including surprising access to a very frank therapy session.

“I bet you I paid out $50,000 in assault charges because I didn’t want to take no s*** from anybody,” Stray Dog tells a friend at one point.

The film is laced with humor and lighthearted moments such as friends and family sharing moonshine or celebrating Christmas together. But the beautiful scenes are most striking, like when Stray Dog and other veterans fix a floor for the mother of a soldier who was killed in action, when he talks to his granddaughter about her unplanned pregnancy or when he tries to learn Spanish with a computer program because his Mexican wife speaks limited English.

Stray Dog is a triumph, and the documentary about this humble and giving man is not to be missed.

Stray Dog; dir. Debra Granik, 98 min., 2014