Tribeca 2024 Review: The Dog Thief

One of the best things about film festivals, such as Tribeca and others, is having the opportunity to see movies long before they get released to the general public. In some cases, there are features that are just fine and may not get much attention beyond that. But, on occasion, we’ll get an unexpected gem from a first-time filmmaker that comes out of nowhere. Vinko Tomičić’s feature film debut The Dog Thief is such a film. It’s a tale of coming face-to-face with the results of your actions, and whether you are willing to face them or not.

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The movie follows a young boy named Martín (Franklin Aro), who is an orphan in search of a father figure. His spare time is spent shining shoes to make some form of money, and the local boys will sometimes mock him for the job. He’s struggling in life, both with school and the social aspect, and he’s trying desperately to improve it. When he recognizes one of his regular customers, Mr. Novoa (Alfredo Castro), could be a potential candidate, Martín decides to do the unthinkable. Mr. Novoa’s only companion is a German Shepherd named Astor, and Martín decides to steal the dog to earn money. There’s even a joke between him and another friend that talks about starting a dog-finding business, but only after they have stolen the dog.

There’s some brief backstory, although it’s not fully revealed, that Mr. Novoa and Martín’s mother once knew each other – and the two may have had something between them. But The Dog Thief doesn’t spell everything out for the audience. It gives little hints, and Martín believes Mr. Novoa could, in fact, be his dad. And by stealing the dog, not only will he have some financial gain, but he could also try to find out more about the man and spend time with him to form a relationship he never had.

But Martín immediately realizes that his actions are going to have consequences, and guilt begins to set in. Martín knows what the next step is that he must take, but the question is if he’ll find the courage to own up to his error.

The Dog Thief is a minimalist feature, with terrific scenery and subtle moments that leave a mark without begging for appreciation. Guilt plays a major role here amongst the characters involved, and the movie doesn’t beg for sympathy or demonize them. But it allows them to express themselves and give the viewer the chance to choose how they should feel.

It’s wonderfully acted by both main leads, and there’s a touching moment toward the end when Martín makes his decision. It lands in a way that you may not expect, and that’s what makes it an even more special feature.

David Wangberg

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