Director Paul Schrader
Starring Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Matthew Cook, Paul Schrader
Released 18th November 2016
He made his name writing Taxi Driver, American Gigolo and Raging Bull. A gift to the marketing people designing the posters for Paul Schrader’s more recent offerings, because those titles come from the late 70s and early 80s. Since then, his career has been on something of a downward trajectory: not because he hasn’t been working, but because his films simply aren’t finding an audience, be they movie goers or critics.
Dog Eat Dog doesn’t quite follow the trend. Instead of being universally panned, it’s closer to being a Marmite movie. I know people who truly hate it, I’ve read reviews that are overwhelmingly enthusiastic. And hats off to them for being able to describe it to any extent, because this is a movie that deliberately sets out to defy description. If there’s one thing I love, it’s a challenge!
The plot, such as it is, goes like this. Three bad boys – Troy (Cage), Mad Dog (Dafoe) and Diesel (Cook) – are all out of prison and need to make some money. And, as they’ve all got two strikes against them, it ain’t going to be legal. Troy is the front man, ie he’s the one with the suit, so approaches the shady El Greco (Paul Schrader) who gets them their first job. But, once the money’s been blown on drink, cocaine, gambling and women, they need something else so the next one is more lucrative. It involves kidnapping a baby whose father owes an associate several million bucks ……
Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? But that’s not the word I’m looking for. And the pre-credits sequence, featuring Dafoe living with his girlfriend in a totally pink apartment and getting into a savage argument sets the tone more accurately. It’s violent, bloody, grotesque, fuelled by drink, drugs and anything else you care to think of, and sets out to deliberately shock with its language and bloody action. No holds are barred, there are no barriers and it’s like being presented by a cartoon populated by real people.
But here’s the thing. You’re offended, your stomach is probably churning from one particularly unpleasant killing and you’re wondering WTF is going on – yet you’re still watching. Maybe you want to see how the three crooks will mess up yet again. Or maybe it’s because the film takes the proverbial out of itself, with Cage sending himself up something rotten. Is that a twinkle in his eye? I swear it is ……
Schrader confines himself to directing this time and behaves like a kid in a cinematic sweet shop, messing around with colour – or sometimes black and white – and engaging in some flashy camera work. Neither of them add a great deal to the film and you find yourself expecting a billboard to appear somewhere along the line, proclaiming “Look, Ma! I’m being clever!” It wouldn’t be out of place in a film like this but, in truth, all that showing off is unnecessary. He also flexes his acting muscles as well, in a role that he offered to a lot of big names (Nolte, Walken, Goldblum etc) but ended up playing himself because that was all the budget would allow.
So this leaves us where? With a film that shouldn’t make you laugh, but does, and that shouldn’t be watchable, but is. But it does also leave you with a slightly queasy feeling and the sense that it intended to do little more than outrage its audience. Which makes it a waste of talent, Schrader’s in particular. And that’s why there’s just one word to describe it. Mad.
Dog Eat Dog was released on demand and in cinemas on Friday, 18 November and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 17 November.