mon 26/10/2020

Dog Eat Dog | reviews, news & interviews

Dog Eat Dog

Dog Eat Dog

Nicolas Cage and Willen Dafoe compete as grotesque gangsters in Paul Schrader's latest schlock-noir

Willem Dafoe as Mad Dog: not too affected by impulse control

Paul Schrader is one of those filmmakers who critics really want to love. Not only is he responsible as a writer for at least two masterpieces – Taxi Driver and Raging Bull – he’s also the director of such great films as Mishima, American Gigolo and Light Sleeper.

Paul Schrader is one of those filmmakers who critics really want to love. Not only is he responsible as a writer for at least two masterpieces – Taxi Driver and Raging Bull – he’s also the director of such great films as Mishima, American Gigolo and Light Sleeper. But what really makes people who write about movies watch out for each new Schrader film is that he started off as a critic himself, and it still shows in his deep knowledge of cinema and insatiable desire to find new ways to tell stories through clashing images, abrasive dialogue and discordant music.

It’s a shame therefore when the stories themselves are not new and all that energy feels just a little bit wasted. Dog Eat Dog is Schrader’s adaptation of a 1995 novel by ex-con Edward Bunker (who played Mr Blue in Reservoir Dogs). It’s the tale of three middle-aged criminals in pursuit of the kind of work which pays in copious drugs, sex workers and fancy cars – probably not the kind of job perks easily found if you’re set on going straight.

There’s no shortage of Tarantinoesque carnage and plenty of strippers strutting around

The movie opens with a sequence that makes it very clear what trajectory we are on. If an audience doesn’t want to spend the next 90 minutes watching Mad Dog (a distressingly raddled Willem Dafoe) taking drugs and slaughtering people against a backdrop of lurid floral wallpaper and Day-Glo filters while the Rock-A-Teens slap out cheery rockabilly on the soundtrack, now’s the chance to slip out of the cinema before the title even comes up on screen. Mad Dog (all sinew and seeing-eye tattoos) has to compete with Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) a steroid-addled bruiser, for the role of right hand man to Troy (Nicolas Cage, pictured below), a Bogart-obsessive with expertise in extracting money with menaces.The three of them have been in prison for 15 years and come out baffled by Facebook, Taylor Swift and the Iraq war but intent on making up for lost time. Schrader himself plays El Greco, a grumbling gangster who hires them to kidnap and ransom the baby of a rival thug. You know you're a long way from Raising Arizona when Cage, irritated by the wailing infant, says, "Where’s that thing you put in a baby’s mouth to keep it quiet?" And Dafoe answers, "You mean a dick?" Mad Dog doesn’t quite follow through, but there’s no shortage of Tarantinoesque carnage and plenty of strippers strutting around to satisfy those who like their cartoon violence delivered with a black comedy bent and no off-switch when it comes to depicting prostitution and narcotics.

Over his long career Schrader has specialised in tales of protagonists tormented by self-hatred, who seek redemption through sex or drugs or ritual beliefs. At his best he has made films with real power and control – also including his debut Blue Collar, the underrated Patty Hearst and the chilling Affliction. But Dog Eat Dog comes over as exhaustingly hyper-kinetic in its style and over-indulgent in its dialogue and of its star actors. Towards the end it feels like you’ve dropped into an overlong acting class with Dafoe and Cage battling to top each others' grotesque performance. Meanwhile Schrader is relishing his palette of editing and visual effects so much that he’s taken his eye off the whole picture. Not Schrader’s finest hour then; Dog Eat Dog is for those completists who will carry on waiting for a return to form.

@saskiabaron

It feels like you’ve dropped into an acting class with Dafoe and Cage battling to top each others' grotesque performance

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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