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The Dog Thief Review: In Search of Belonging

A german shepherd and a man with a covered face behind him in the movie The Dog Thief

The Dog Thief is a gloomy yet heartwarming journey of finding one’s place in the world through the eyes of a lone child deducing what he wants from life.

Director: Vinko Tomičić Salinas
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 90′
Tribeca World Premiere: June 6-13, 2024
Release Date: TBA

Martín (Franklin Aro), an orphan who works as a shoeshine boy, is convinced a lonely tailor named Sr. Novoa (Alfredo Castro, El Conde) might be his father. So, to make easy money with his friends and get close to Sr. Novoa, he steals the man’s dog. As Martín and Sr. Novoa form a bond, it becomes harder for the young boy to go through with his plan while discovering he yearns for more than the street life he has.

Writer-director Vinko Tomičić’s The Dog Thief (Perros) doesn’t move the needle in terms of what it does with its predictable premise. The film plays out exactly how you’d imagine: Martín learning a lesson about being an honest man, is inspired by Sr. Novoa’s skills and interests such as classical music, there is a liar-reveal subplot in the third act that hinders their friendship, and of course, the boy grows to care for the man’s dog too. But what the movie might lack in originality makes up for it in heart.

Franklin Aro carries a stubborn and innocent sensitivity in his performance, which can be tough to get from a young actor. His chemistry with Alfredo Castro is believable in a way that feels familiar. Maybe you’ve seen someone form a connection with an older mentor, or perhaps you have been in such a situation where their guidance significantly impacts your life choices for the better. It’s this portrayal of these characters’ dynamics that often makes The Dog Thief feel more like a documentary than a feature film because the core friendship that the narrative hinges on is so raw and real.

Tomičić’s approach to their friendship is also a bittersweet one. Here, you have an orphan searching for a father figure and a man whose only family is a German shepherd. Without drawing too much attention to the film’s themes, having Martín get rid of the dog by kidnapping him – viewing him almost as his competition – says so much about his mental state and desperation for a family. As for Sr. Novoa, it allows him to see what he’s been missing out on by not having children of his own. These elements aren’t groundbreaking, though they do a lot to keep you emotionally invested.

a man looks to his right and another man looks ahead in the movie The Dog Thief
The Dog Thief (LuxBox / 2024 Tribeca Film Festival)

Sergio Armstrong’s cinematography aids in giving The Dog Thief its naturalistic, documentary visual look. The scenes where Martín is seen working on the streets as a shoeshine boy are a great example of the movie’s style. They don’t look overly produced. They come across as if somebody just placed a camera at a random location and captured footage of a hardworking boy. The way structures are framed is rather warm, sort of like a hug. It’s odd, but the film’s locations play a huge part in making Martín’s world feel big and hopeful despite his circumstance of being an orphan.

While the film closes itself off in a manner that leaves it open for interpretation when it comes to Martín’s faith, The Dog Thief is one of those movies that make you feel hopeful for the future. It may not make it to my top movies of 2024, but I am sure I will recall its characters with fondness and remember how it made me feel in the moment. Nothing game-changing, but a respectable effort nonetheless.

The Dog Thief premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 6-13, 2024. Read our list of 15 films to watch at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival!

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