Combining bromance, sexy murder mystery, innocent courtship, and insomnia, Richard Atkinson’s Dogs Lie is a unique, if inconsistent independent film with messy ambitions but strong execution.
Iqbal (Samrat Chakrabarti) and Josh (Frank Boyd) are orderlies at a New York sleep clinic who keep each other awake during the night shift with games of chess and betting on the behavior of their patients. When a gorgeous insomniac named Lucia (Ewa Da Cruz) tells Iqbal about an incriminating photograph she left on her dresser that might make her gangster-ish boyfriend murderous, Josh takes it upon himself to be her knight in shining armor by quietly taking her house key to remove the photo on the way to pick up dinner. Though he admits he chickened out to Iqbal, a police detective shows up the next night to ask if the pair know anything about why a man was found dead in the apartment in question. Iqbal covers for his friend but grows suspicious, especially as he begins a sweet romantic flirtation with the female officer.
Dogs Lie is built on two main components as a film: the relationship between its leads and the mystery of the dead gangster. It makes for an odd combination, as Iqbal and Josh’s scenes together are generally light-hearted and amusing, while the murder mystery portion tiptoes into noir territory without fully committing until the surprisingly mood-changing conclusion. As a result, the tone of the film is overwhelmingly inconsistent, yet the main characters hold it together well enough to carry us through to the end.
As Iqbal, Samrat Chakrabarti is incredibly likable and charming, making him a refreshing lead that’s easy for the audience to get behind. Frank Boyd’s Josh is a different horse, a man who seems to start the film as a typical slacker but gradually reveals a different and far more complex side. It’s an interesting and even creepy arc that’s wisely downplayed, since so much of the film is filtered through Iqbal’s point of view.
As a whole, Dogs Lie is both slightly frustrating and quite entertaining. Josh and Iqbal’s back-and-forth rapport is both well-written and delivered, though the over-arcing mystery never seems to decide how seriously it should be taken. Director Richard Atkinson makes excellent use of his actors, but the script (written by Atkinson, Jane Beale, and Ronnie Cohen) is a little erratic in pacing and tone. It’s hard to ever put so much weight on Lucia’s drama when so much more energy seems to be put into Iqbal’s blossoming romance or comic relief asides with phone calls to his overbearing mother (Gita Reddy). By the time the film’s surprisingly dark conclusion comes around, the audience isn’t quite prepared. Perhaps that was the intention all along, but as a viewing experience, it feels more like frustration than a twist.
As a debut feature for Richard Atkinson, Dogs Lie displays a lot of promise. Though the story doesn’t quite fit together, the film makes up for it with a strong ensemble of interesting, believable characters. It should be arriving on DVD this December, but those interested in earlier screenings can leave a message on the official website’s contact page for more scheduling. Visit http://www.dogslie.com for more information.