Judge David Johnson always though "dog eat dog world" was just a saying...until he saw this superb—and unsettling—documentary.
A shocking expose on America's forsaken breed.
I'll dispense with the pleasantries and say it: Off the Chain is a great documentary. Why is it great? For a bunch of reasons, but primarily, because it taught me a lot about a subject I hadn't the foggiest clue about: the Pit Bull.
Well, I guess I had a few foggy clues about Pit Bulls, like they tend to eat small children and every animal shelter round me has about 36 of them at any given time. Still, I was pretty much ignorant to the entire story of this maligned breed. The story of the Pit Bull is one of heartbreak and tragedy. And before I start sounding like a promo for an overwrought Oscar film or something, I should be forthcoming and reveal my soft spot for dogs. In fact, I think I'll make a broad generalization and say that most men have an affinity for dogs (there's daring writing for you). In my sporadic years of dog ownership I can certainly attest to the voracity of the "man's best friend" label, and watching this documentary elicited many gut reactions, most of them connected with "disgust." I think you gentlemen out there will likely find Off the Chain more emotionally impacting than most other documentaries you may come across, except, perhaps The History of the Breast. (Judge's Note: I am not aware of a documentary called The History of the Breast.)
Unless, of course, you're one of those dickhead trainers from the film.
Off the Chain is a penetrating, unnerving look at the world of dog-fighting and the ramifications of this gruesome diversion on the dogs that participate, primarily the Pit Bull and the American Staffordshire Terriers. Director Bobby J. Brown does what a true documentary filmmaker should do: show the audience and let us decide for ourselves. And if the jerks hang themselves, so be it. And there are jerks in this film and they do hang themselves.
The film starts with a brief history of the Pit Bull, from its bloody chapter as bull-baiters, where they would be unleashed on a bull to tear it apart to its iconic stature in American culture in the early 20th century (e.g. Our Gang and Buster Brown commercials). Finally we land in our present day, where 200 counties in the U.S. have banned the breed, and over 2 million Pit Bulls are euthanized each year.
Brown trains his camera on the passionate opponents of dog-fighting, specifically workers for the Humane Society, police and animal control officers, private owners, and rescue workers. But inserted into these interviews—sometimes back to back with them—we meet several of the proponents of the "sport," anonymous "dog men" who sing the praises of their pursuits and emphasize that their diversions are fueled by the spirit of competition and the love they have for their dogs.
Look, it's a lop-sided argument from the get-go. Not many folks in their right minds are going to go into this film with a pre-determined rosy outlook on the idea of dogs tearing each other's throats out. But Brown gives these guys their chance to defend their practices. Their treatises sound interplanetary and sick, sure, but at least we are given access to what they believe.
The really chilling stuff, though, comes from the actual dog fighting footage. Undercover video reveals truly brutal goings-on. The viewer is pelted with unsettling imagery of people gathered around a pit, cheering like they're at their son's tee-ball game, while two dogs nuke each other to ribbons. Be warned: it's pretty graphic stuff, with the animals shown chomping on each other's necks, or lying prone in pools of blood. To Brown's credit he doesn't linger on these shots, but the footage is grisly enough to affect younger viewers. Heck, I had a hard time watching it.
Brown gets shots of many happenings peripheral to the dog-fighting world, and this stuff is just as creepy. One of the trainers takes us through his regimen for his dog. There's treadmill walking and all that, but wait until you see him give the dog a shot to knick him out, and then proceed to use a drill to sharpen the dog's teeth. Wow. In addition, we'll see the decrepit housing facilities for these animals, most just a run down shacks in the middle of mud pits. Finally, Brown even lands some footage of a police raid on a dog-fight.
The history of the Pit Bull is a lineage I was never aware of, and the underground subculture of dog-fighting is—thankfully—foreign to me. But because of Brown and his affecting documentary, I now know more than I've wanted to about a cursed breed of animal. Highly recommended.
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