Dog Eat Dog

 

starstarstarhalf

 


A film of conscious excess presented with tongue firmly in cheek.

 
Dog Eat Dog

Willem Dafoe

 

Paul Schrader made his name with films of serious artistic endeavour - and that applied equally to his work as a screenwriter (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) and as a director (Blue Collar, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters). In more recent times, however, his work has taken a dive: with some of his movies he lost control and others, even if they emerged as he intended, appeared ill-judged suggesting that as an artist he was floundering. His latest film, Dog Eat Dog, made from a screenplay by Matthew Wilder, unexpectedly proves to be something quite different from any of that.

 

Dog Eat Dog may be a tale of sleaze and violence, a crime story about ex-cons undertaking work for a mafia boss, but it is presented quite consciously as a kind of camp vehicle that invites laughs and, especially during its first third, its gets them. Over the top from the start, it's an open invitation to Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe to play in that mode, and that they do with relish. Dafoe plays a psychotic killer who is not known as Mad Dog for nothing and he leads the way with Cage as his indebted friend Troy who involves him along with Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) in fresh criminal enterprises. The first of these consists of robbing a drug dealer and this is followed by the kidnapping of a baby as ransom for an unpaid debt due to a mobster. It's dramatic stuff treated with tongue in cheek so that early on a parodic moment echoes Taxi Driver and when the plot development recalls in passing another Cage vehicle, Raising Arizona (1987), it feels deliberate.

 

The Tarantinoesque notion of playing on incongruity between dialogue and situation makes for laugh-out-loud moments early on, but the screenplay fails to keep up this level. Indeed, Dafoe has a scene of self-pity which leaves us uncertain if this is a send-up or a change of tone, albeit that the outcome of this episode seems to answer that question. Despite the underlying sense of a skilled director at work, Dog Eat Dog lacks consistency, but its tale does enjoyably bend some of the conventional rules of crime movies and throws in echoes of Humphrey Bogart. Schrader himself appears with confidence as the mafia boss who, in keeping with the film's tone is named El Greco and this is one recent film of his which is presumably what he wanted it to be. For a work from an artist of distinction it certainly is disreputable, but it looks as though everybody had fun making it - and for once that kind of fun comes across in what is on the screen.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Matthew Cook, Louisa Krause, Omar Dorsey, Melissa Bolona, Rey Gallagos, Chelcie Melton, Paul Schrader, Louis Perez, Magi Avila.

 

Dir Paul Schrader, Pro Mark Earl Burman, Gary Hamilton, Brian Beckman and David Hilary, Screenplay Matthew Wilder, from the novel by Edward Bunker, Ph Alexander Dynn, Pro Des Grace Yun, Ed Benjamin Rodriguez Jr, Music WeAre Dark Angels, Costumes Olga Mill.

 

Blue Budgie Films/Arclight Films International/Pure Dopamine/Ingenious Media/Shanghai Gigantic Pictures Co.-Signature Entertainment.
93 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 18 November 2016. Cert. 18.