‘Arthur The King’ Review: Mark Wahlberg And A Scrappy New Dog Star Make This Remarkable True Story Come To Cinematic Life

Let me state right out that I am a sucker for dog movies. I still can’t get over My Dog Skip. I learned valuable lifelong lessons from Old Yeller. I consider Lassie a personal friend. I took selfies at the Oscar nominees luncheon with Messi, the French border collie I was pushing for Best Supporting Actor from Anatomy of a Fall. So yes, I am probably the right audience for the latest in the genre, Arthur the King, and its title star.

However, for about the first 55 minutes or so, Arthur the King is hardly about the dog at all, but rather the extreme physical competition of adventure racing, most particularly the 2018 World Championship taking place in the Dominican Republic. The focus is on frustrated competitor Michael Light (Mark Wahlberg), who never never won the big prize and is determined not to give up. This time he has put together what on paper is a formidable team (the sport has teams of four each, with about 50 competing for the annual title).

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In addition to Michael, we learn the backstories of the crew he is with, including former archnemesis Leo (Simu Liu), whom he is forced to bring on board due to his social media skills and at the demand of sponsor Broadrail, which is footing the bill; Olivia (Nathalie Emmanuel), who is determined to carry on her champion father’s legacy in the sport; and Chik (Ali Suliman), who has won seven times but is considered done due to an injury. The adventure racers must endure backbreaking running, climbing, trekking, mountain biking, kayaking and more over the course of 10 days and 435 miles in challenging conditions, weather and otherwise. It is grueling, to say the least.

The first half of the film is really witnessing their efforts in all this, so much that it almost begins to feel like an ESPN documentary. Occasionally, director Simon Cellan Jones sets his cameras on a stray mixed-breed mutt wandering the streets of Santo Domingo alone in search of scraps, clearly without an owner and visibly mistreated from wherever he has emerged.

Finally, at one of their stops, Michael discovers the dog and his soulful eyes and throws him a couple of meatballs. Back to the race. But after traveling another 200 miles, the dog incredibly turns up again, and Michael is astonished. How did he get there? Although not necessarily a dog person, he realizes this is no ordinary pooch and even decides he must have a regal name to represent his own journey, thus he is named Arthur the King. From then on, Arthur is the fifth member of this team, and one who earns his keep when, in pure Lassie fashion, prevents them from riding straight over an unseen cliff. As the race goes on, the dog becomes something of a celebrity in the ESPN coverage, as Michael’s obsession with victory is being overtaken by his emerging humanity.

Sound far-fetched, a Hollywood story? Not quite. It is all true, with some facts and names changed for this Americanized version of a tale that already has been the subject of two ESPN short documentaries, as well Arthur: The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home, one of two books on the canine written by Swedish adventure racer Mikael Lindnord, the real-life person Wahlberg essentially is playing. The actual world championship has been changed from 2014 in Ecuador and a Swedish team led by Lindnord to 2018 and the American team in the Dominican Republic, an even more imposing and dangerous place. Whatever the details, the rest is true and truly stunning to think this dog traveled 435 miles — and believe me, there won’t be a dry eye in the house as they approach the finish line.

TV commercials, aware that audiences might be worried about the dog’s fate, tell us, “We know what you may be thinking” but assure us not to worry. Still — and this is no spoiler alert — there are touchy life-and-death moments for the title star, so beware. Nevertheless it is a triumphant, moving and inspiring family film of the highest order, especially for dog lovers and Wahlberg lovers, the latter in his zone here in a physically taxing role but one where character takes center stage. This movie and story are a natural for the star, and the supporting cast also is up to the task, even though they eventually are working opposite a talented scene-stealer whose real name is Ukai, doing what I understand is 90% of his own stunts.

Shout-out to Jacques Jouffret’s fine cinematography and the dog training by Mathilde de Cagny.

They say grown actors should never work with kids or animals if you want to be noticed. In the case of Arthur the King, it is all a valiant team effort for humans and dog — and it pays off for families looking for a good time at the movies.

Producers are Tucker Tooley, Mark Canton, Courtney Solomon, Tessa Tooley, Stephen Levinson and Wahlberg. Dorothy Canton is among the Executive Producers.

Title: Arthur the King
Distributor: Lionsgate
Release date: March 15, 2024
Director: Simon Cellan Jones
Screenwriter: Michael Brandt
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Simu Liu, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ali Suliman, Juliet Rylance, Paul Guilfoyle, Bear Grylls, Ukai
Rating: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr 47 min

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