Movie review of “Stray Dog”: Debra Granik, who directed the much-praised 2010 drama “Winter’s Bone,” follows up with a moving documentary about biker and Vietnam War veteran Ron Hill, who had a small role in “Bone.” Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Ron “Stray Dog” Hill played a character named Thump Milton in Debra Granik’s stunning, 2010 “Winter’s Bone,” a drama set in a hard-bitten Ozarks community and starring Jennifer Lawrence in her breakout role.
Fans of that impressive movie will instantly recognize Hill as the subject of Granik’s somewhat surprising follow-up, the moving documentary “Stray Dog.”
With intensely personal access to part-time actor Hill’s unglamorous yet full, complex life, Granik follows the grizzled biker and Missouri trailer-park manager as he travels in a motorcycle convoy with fellow U.S. Army vets to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Stray Dog,’ a documentary written and directed by Debra Granik. 98 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences. In English and Spanish, with English subtitles. SIFF Film Center.
Along the way, Granik simply lets the camera roll as Hill bears witness to men talking about the many ways they changed in Vietnam or in later, subsequent wars, and the pain they still endure.
Hill conveys a nonjudgmental, generous spirit, which is nothing less than what he needs, as we learn during a scene where he tells a therapist he can’t forgive some of his own actions in Vietnam.
But Granik also captures the infrastructure of Hill’s life, the very things that keep him from being lost in isolation: his interesting, Mexico-born wife, Alicia (who prays to an eclectic array of multifaith religious figures); her 19-year-old twin sons from a previous marriage, newly arrived and disoriented in the U.S.; his overworked granddaughter and the latter’s infant son; and a community that seems to depend on Hill for bonding rituals and individual support.
It would be easy to say Granik offers a portrait of redneck life in “Stray Dog,” but even allowing for Hill’s guns and skepticism about government, it’s clear such an oversimplified cultural cliché can’t begin to describe the reality here. There’s nothing stereotypical about seeing a man do his best for others.