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Black Dog at the BFI London Film Festival: a moving, rough-and ready road-trip drama

George Jaques’ debut feature Black Dog starts on the streets of Brixton and ends on a housing estate in Scotland – but it’s the journey, rather than the destination, that’s important in this rough-and ready teenage road-trip drama.

In Brixton we’re introduced to Jamie Flatters’ Nathan, a wannabe-streetwise foster child who has never been further north than Camden Town. But after a heart-to-heart with a mechanic-slash-father figure Andre (Paul Kaye) he decides to head to Scotland to reconnect with his sister.

By a convenient twist of fate, he rescues old school friend Sam (Keenan Munn-Francis), a sheltered and shy young man, who, to outward appearances, comes from a stable home. They meet in Brixton, as Sam also prepares to head north – to Newcastle to visit his mum – and events conspire for the two teenagers to travel together. They form an uneasy alliance and in so doing they find out more about each other and, ultimately, themselves.

The two old schoolfriends reconnect (LFF)
The two old schoolfriends reconnect (LFF)

Much of Black Dog, which was co-written by Jaques and Flatters, is the two actors playing off each other (around two-thirds of the 90 minute run-time). Nathan chides Sam’s driving and social awkwardness, Sam is driven spare by Nathan’s incessant energy, coarse manner and bad language.

The two central performances, and their chemistry together, helps the film overcome the episodic nature of the trip. Flatters, who the eagled-eyed might recognise from his Na’avi role in Avatar: The Way of Water, gives Nathan a real depth and a fragility to his anger and excitement.

Munn-Francis’ job is trickier, having to hide away from the camera without losing an on-screen presence. The scenes of him on his own are some of the hardest to watch and that’s a credit to his acting chops, especially given his relative inexperience after just a handful of roles on TV.

Director Jaques plays things casual with the camera and the less-is-more approach works when the two leads play off each other as well as this (though he does put in is one incredible shot late on, a real director’s flourish).

Black Dog paints an intimate portrait of these two teens, who the audiences can’t help rooting for. The film is serviceable road trip odyssey with all the expected pratfalls and hiccups that the genre brings with it.

Black Dog is a decent start for Jaques in the director’s chair and it is hard not to be moved by the film’s emotional finale, even if much of the audience will have seen it coming.

96 minutes, cert TBC

Black Dog screens at the BFI London Film Festival on Saturday October 14 at 6.10pm and Sunday October 15 at 5.30pm.