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Review

'Stray Dog' busts stereotypes as it reveals heart of a vet

No stranger to caricature-smashing, studied authenticity, "Winter's Bone" filmmaker Debra Granik applies her trademark immersive approach to her first documentary, "Stray Dog," with equally revealing results.

Southern Missouri resident Ron "Stray Dog" Hall might appear to be just your average RV-park-dwelling, heavy-set, gray-bearded, beer-drinking, Harley-riding Vietnam vet, but it very quickly becomes apparent that looks can be mighty deceiving.

Gradually peeling back those hackneyed images of Southern-fried, biker culture Americana, the film allows us to get to know the real Hall — a man with a compassion as big as his gut who remains so deeply haunted by his combat experiences that he regularly visits a shrink to help him navigate a minefield of guilt and remorse.

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We also get to know Alicia, his loving Mexican bride, and, later on, her shy twin 19-year-old sons, Jesus and Angel, for whom Ronnie obtains American papers so they can legally relocate from bustling Mexico City to the considerably sleepier At Ease RV Park.

Expertly playing with our preconceived notions, Granik's multidimensional portrait also serves as a telling state-of-the-union address, as seen through the caring eyes of her philosophical main subject.

As captured by her unobtrusive crew, behind all the flag-waving, engine-revving and barbecuing there beats a fervent, aching heart.

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"Stray Dog"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills.

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