It’s not Turner & Hooch. Yet, it’s definitely not Cujo. John Stalberg Jr.’s Muzzle is a much more grounded story of a police K-9 and its human partner. While on a call about a suspicious car full of illegal drugs, Jake (Aaron Eckhart) and his partner Ace are called to the scene. When the booby-trapped car explodes, Ace spots the assailant and chases after him. When he gets close, the bad guy distracts Ace with a command in German and kills Ace.
Already suffering from PTSD after his stint in Afghanistan, Jake is put on administrative leave for some much-needed therapy and to train a new partner. From the lot, he picks a broken dog (just like him) named Socks, who is muzzled and probably suffering from PTSD as well, as his new partner. Pretending to follow his prescribed rehabilitation with K-9 trainer Leland (Stephen Lang), Jake starts calling in favors and snooping around crime scenes to discover who killed Ace.
Two things going on with Muzzle set this film apart from your typical K-9 cop movie. Don’t get me wrong. This is a cop movie—a genre that has been neglected for quite some time. First, it’s pretty no-frills regarding a story about a furry animal. Socks is not exactly “cute” (eye of the beholder). She doesn’t have a mind of her own, causing mischief in Jake’s home or investigating a crime scene and stumbling across critical pieces of evidence.
“…suffering from PTSD…Jake is put on administrative leave for some much-needed therapy and to train a new partner.”
In Muzzle, we probably get about as accurate of a relationship between cop and dog as you will get. Jake is Sock’s master. We get a glimpse into the training process as Jake is challenged to bring discipline to a shell-shocked Socks. As Leland says, “They become addicted to their master. If you keep them safe, they will keep you safe.”
We also learn that K-9s are considered actual officers in the LAPD. Ace’s death is treated as if he was part of the force. Yet, not all officers take the K-9 unit seriously.
The second element is the story of broken souls. Jake is a loner, and Ace is his only friend. The loss of Ace now begins to co-mingle with the memories of his time in the Middle East as a soldier. Jake needs to find healing, and his neighbor Mia (Penelope Mitchell) is there to help by keeping Jake situated in reality.
Socks is also broken as we soon find out that she was on the inside of whoever was involved in the drug dealing scheme. Now, Jake has to find a way to read Socks to uncover not only who killed Ace but also use his police skills to expose a bigger conspiracy.
Muzzle found a way to bring back the cop story, which Hollywood has shied away from for the last few years. Jake marks the return of the hero cop who cares for justice and the innocent at the risk of his job and reputation. Ultimately, it’s a fresh, gritty take on the broken cop and his dog story.
"…found a way to bring back the cop story, which Hollywood has shied away from..."