1997 Movie Review: LAWN DOGS, 1997


LAWN DOGS (1997)
Clascic Movie Review
Directed by John Duigan
Starring Mischa Barton, Sam Rockwell
Review by Russell Hill


A young family move into an upmarket housing area, hoping to climb up the social ladder. Their daughter does not share her parents’ ambition and, instead of making friends with someone her own age, befriends a shy gardener.


Almost unrecognisable from her role in The O.C., Mischa Barton here gives a matured performance for such a young person of only eleven years of age. Ably supported by Sam Rockwell, it seems at times that he is the star of the film, not Barton, and certainly relishes in what was his break-through role. Upon discussing this film with my loved ones, they didn’t even know this film existed! Such lack of acknowledgement should be rectified.

I guess you could say that Devon (Barton) is our protagonist, but then again Trent (Rockwell) might be in a number of scenes. Recently moved into what can only be described as a very affluent area, Devon with her mother Clare (Kathleen Quinlan) and father Morton (McDonald) are the new kids on the block. Morton is a very ambitious man, and always strives to better his social standing by inviting the neighbours over for a barbeque or discussing intellectual matters with them. Either way, he’s a man with a goal. Devon, on the other hand, couldn’t care less for her father’s aspirations.

Upon the chance discovery one day selling cookies, she meets Trent; a loner character who makes a living cutting the lawns in the neighbourhood where Devon lives. Looked down upon by his customers as his profession is not an academic one, Trent just carries on with life despite their resentment. Even the local idiots, the type who wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire, give him slack but even this doesn’t bother him. Thick skinned? Yes, Trent is certainly that.

Upon their first meeting, Devon keeps appearing at Trent’s home; a shot-gun trailer in the forest that wouldn’t even make good firewood. Despite both being independently-minded characters they find friendship in each other. Theirs is a strange friendship, but a close one. In spite of her father’s wealth, Devon would rather live this semi-nomadic existence Trent has. I guess money doesn’t always buy you happiness. Both Devon and Trent are outsiders, and only seem to find companionship in each other. Trent’s isolation is self-imposed but Devon’s is due to her personality. Certainly not one to win a Miss Popularity contest, she finds herself more at ease with her pet turtle or joining in with the howling of the neighbourhood dogs. A character more suitable for The Twilight Zone than Disney.

There will always be anger in a movie when there is a somewhat questionable friendship between an adult and a young child. And boy, do the fireworks truly happen. It doesn’t help that Devon informs her father of this whilst crying. Similar to shooting someone whilst smiling, I guess. There always is something you’re not quite following. Think Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight. You think he’s being sincere, but in fact is pure evil. Anyway, I’m rambling. Where was I?

Rockwell and Barton are supported by some fine actors. McDonald, one of the finest actors of our generation and otherwise known as Shooter MacGavin from Happy Gilmore, excels here. His over-the-top reaction to the friendship that Devon has with Trent is both understandable and believable. Although he is not an A-List actor, his ability in this film is worthy of that status. As with Mr Destiny, a previous review of mine that can be seen in the Classic Movie Review section and a movie not shown much on television in Great Britain, Lawn Dogs is, and I hate to use the phrase but certainly necessary here, an underrated film and certainly a modern-day classic. It doesn’t help that this film is difficult enough to obtain on DVD (I recorded this on VHS from the television) but when you do get a copy, boy, is it worth it.

As I mentioned, a number of my loved ones were not aware of this movie. But, upon showing them my grainy and worn copy on VHS, their eyes were opened to the aspects that make this movie a classic-great characters that you can believe might actually exist, great direction by Duigan and starring an actress that still has the potential to be a Hollywood great. I always root for British-born actresses to succeed, and hope that Barton won’t throw away talent that, despite her young age, is evident. What a movie to start your career in.



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