G-Dog is a Spirit-Raiser


Freida Lee Mock’s G-Dog belongs to a long line of feel-good documentaries that win audience awards at film festivals and make you feel like a jerk for not liking them. (See also Being Elmo, Searching for Sugar Man, and the upcoming Twenty Feet from Stardom.) This particular spirit-raiser is about Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who started the gang-intervention program Homeboy Industries in 1988 and is, by all accounts, something of a saint. That the documentary taking its title from Boyle’s affectionate nickname often verges on hagiography should thus come as little surprise, nor should Mock’s tendency to maintain a breezy mood even when touching on such thorny subject matter as gang life and recidivism. Composed largely of testimonials from men and women in Los Angeles who credit the genial Boyle with turning their life around, and behind-the-scenes looks at the services his program provides (substance abuse counseling, job training, tattoo removal, even yoga classes), G-Dog improves noticeably once it shifts from lionizing its hero to charting the dire financial straits faced by Homeboy Industries, and the uncertain future of the many people who depend on it. Here, once the stakes are raised in the final third, Mock allows her camera to roam over its subjects’ faces and let their story tell itself—a wise choice, made not a moment too soon.