Review: Dog Eat Dog (TIFF 2016)

Dog Eat Dog (TIFF 2016)
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PLOT: Three criminals (Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook) are hired to kidnap a gangster’s baby.

REVIEW: In his introduction to DOG EAT DOG, TIFF Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes admitted that it was not a natural pick for the programme. Coming from a respected veteran filmmaker like Paul Schrader, DOG EAT DOG, which earlier played Cannes, might seem like a more natural fit for one of the higher-brow categories, but right off the bat it’s obvious that the midnight section is where it belongs.

In the opening scene, we’re introduced to Willem Dafoe’s Mad Dog, a con with an apropos name, who - after doing a few lines of coke and a shot of heroin - murders his nagging girlfriend and her daughter, all of which is played out to shocking comic effect. It’s a disturbed, demented opening but it perfectly prepares the audience for what’s to come - which is the blackest, cruelest gangland tale I’ve maybe ever seen. There are no nice-guy cons here. All three of our leads are two-time losers desperate not to get caught, and each - even Cage’s character - has a psycho streak.

In a way, this is a refreshing approach as who really takes-up this line of work? A life of crime is too often glorified in Hollywood films, but Schrader’s movie does the opposite and depicts it as a world full of scumbag psychos who would just as soon shoot you in the head as talk to you. Adapted from real-life ex-con Eddie Bunker’s novel by Matthew Wilder, this is a one-of-a-kind caper, made all the more memorable by how funny it is.

Certainly, it provides stars Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe with the juiciest, most unhinged roles they’ve played in awhile. Dafoe sends-up his own image as the impulsive Mad Dog, whose only redeeming feature is that he’s too simple to ever double-cross his associates, and he knows it. Christopher Matthew Cook is the crew’s muscle, a guy named Diesel who Cage’s narration swears is actually some kind of genius even though he seems anything but - and Cook is terrific in the part.

Of them all, the one who really gets to have a ball is Cage, in full VAMPIRE’S KISS/BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS mode. Semi sane compared to the other guys, even he’s not above shooting a victim who gets on his nerves, inhaling several grams of coke and, in a weird scene, having a nude ketchup and mustard fight with Dafoe in a hotel room - which is framed in a way that it might in-fact be the Cage character’s own homo-erotic fantasy. Cage is also written with a Humphrey Bogart fixation, giving him the opportunity to play a good chunk of the film doing a Bogie impression, with him assuming the persona the more crazy he gets.

All told, DOG EAT DOG is an absolutely mental film but in a good way. Superbly entertaining, it’s a strong return-to-form for Schrader (who’s also quite decent in a supporting part here as a mob middle-man) after a few iffy movies. Some of the visual gimmicks are a little cheesy and the film looks a little cheap at times, but it doesn’t really matter. There are a lot of great things about it, from the atypical soundtrack, to the dialogue and razor-sharp editing and finally to the great trio of lead performances. This isn’t at all for everyone, but those who it is for (you know who you are) will get as big a kick out of it as I did.

Source: JoBlo.com



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