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May 8, 2012

Shiloh

by Franz Patrick


Shiloh (1996)
★★★ / ★★★★

A hunter named Judd Travers (Scott Wilson) was not very kind to his dogs. Yelling at the dogs, hitting them on the head with a rifle, and kicking them in the stomach was, to him, just a part of the job. By treating his animals in such a way, similar to the manner in which his own father treated him when he was a child, Judd believed his dogs would toughen up and become more effective hunters. One night, a beagle ran away from him. The next morning, it crossed paths with Marty Preston (Blake Heron), a kid searching for a summer job because he wanted a bike. But the moment he laid his eyes on the dog, naming it Shiloh, a bike suddenly felt less important. Based on a novel by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and directed by Dale Rosenbloom, “Shiloh” was a real treat for children and adults who had a pet they loved when they were kids. It was an atypical film about a friendship between a boy and his pet because it wasn’t afraid to face certain truths. Some reviews cited the fact that the picture didn’t need to show acts of animal cruelty. They argued it was too violent for children. I beg to differ. I thought it was important, especially for kids, to know that mistreatment of animals do exist in many forms. We may not like seeing it but the reality is that it’s there and, as the picture showed, we do have the power to protect animals from being treated like they’re objects. The harsh reality was balanced with real tender moments. The way Marty pet and held the dog, his many attempts to earn enough money so he could buy Shiloh from Judd, and his reasoning behind lying to his parents (Michael Moriarty, Ann Dowd) about not knowing the dog’s whereabouts showed a lot of love. There were real thoughts in Marty’s head; it wasn’t just about owning a dog like one would own a bike. For him, it was about rescuing a living being who he believed was being treated unkindly. In a way, he wanted to stand up for the dog because it didn’t have the words to express how it felt about being abused. To say that Marty was a young hero would not be an understatement. But there were moments of comedy, too. Sam (J. Madison Wright) was a girl, adopted by the Wallaces (Rod Steiger, Bonnie Bartlett), around Marty’s age who was brave enough to show Marty that she liked him. Marty, still not at an age where he was interested in (or comfortable admitting to liking) girls, either ignored her affections or told her to “not be gross.” I wish they had more scenes together. “Shiloh” had an old-fashioned story and execution but it a big heart and, more importantly, real lessons to impart about responsibility, growing up, and fighting for what one believes to be right.

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