In many ways, Duke is exactly what you would expect from a Hallmark original movie. The cast of actors whose names you almost remember, the conspicuous tugging on your heart strings, and of course the music that dictates exactly how you’re supposed to feel at any given moment. That being said, Duke may prove pleasantly surprising to the average viewer. The story is about Terry (Steven Webber; Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who injured his leg badly and suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. The movie begins with Terry’s wife bringing home a stray dog (Duke), but the story doesn’t really begin until 10 years later. Terry, unable to cope with his issues, has long since abandoned his wife and daughter, and lives in a camper behind a friend’s house, doing odd repair jobs when he can get them. He has taken Duke with him and the two have become best friends, so the drama of the film takes off when Duke gets suddenly very sick and Terry decides to have him put to sleep. Unable to face his dog’s death, Terry leaves him at the clinic with a note and leaves town, not knowing that the veterinarian is able to save Duke’s life, but unable to find his owner.
Now, that’s a lot of summary of the story, but it’s important to understanding merely the setup to the film. It just so happens that the setup is nearly 1/3 of the runtime. The bulk of the subsequent story then is about Terry reuniting with Duke as well as his now adult daughter Alice (Sarah Smyth). The best thing this movie has going for it is Steven Webber. He is a strong actor with a long, successful career. He does a good job of carrying this movie too. The character’s arc is organic and believable. He’s flawed in many ways, and the thing I like most about his presence in the film is that he doesn’t magically change in some unrealistic epiphany moment. He knows all along that leaving his family was a cowardly act, and Alice trying to find him isn’t a karmic reward for trying to be a better person. It’s more representative of the idea that in the real world things sometimes just work out for no good reason.
Beyond Webber’s performance, I’m impressed with what they could train the dog playing Duke to do. His ability to play injured during the recuperation montage is remarkable. The dog’s performance is definitely good enough that it is unnecessary for the cast of characters to keep telling us how amazing the dog is.
No special features.
Available on DVD from Hallmark on March 12.