Paul Schrader is one of the true unsung heroes of cinema. Having written both Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, his name has largely been lost behind Martin Scorsese’s. In the years since those classics he’s directed a number of films of his own – American Gigolo, Cat People and Hardcore, to name a few – but he’s never had the attention he’s deserved. His latest film, Dog Eat Dog, has been pretty savagely torn apart by critics and audiences alike…and I can’t see for the life of me why.
Based on the novel of the same name by Edward Bunker, Dog Eat Dog follows the exploits of three mismatched criminals – a professional (Nicolas Cage), a streetwise thug (Christopher Matthew Cook) and an unhinged psychopath (Willem Dafoe). Remind you of anything? Yes, Dog Eat Dog is essentially GTA V: The Movie. Fresh out of prison, our heroes undertake increasingly risky jobs with the hope of a better life at the end. But of course, things go wrong, the body-count rises and each of the three must decide who to trust. I know, it sounds like something you’ve seen a hundred times before - but there are some things that make Dog Eat Dog stand out from the pack.
So sure, narratively Dog Eat Dog is nothing particularly special. The main chunk of the movie is based around their big ‘one last job’, kidnapping a baby and holding it for ransom. But this is the sort of film where the plot itself is somewhat inconsequential. It’s entertaining and engrossing enough but the twists are predictable and some of the characters are pretty one-dimensional. Ultimately, Dog Eat Dog is style over substance – or maybe, performance over style over substance! Willem Dafoe, as ‘Mad Dog’, absolutely owns every frame of this film - even when he’s not on camera. His presence is palpable, just like his GTA equivalent Trevor. He’s unpredictable, volatile and terrifying. Easily one of his finest performances, and one that, in an ideal world, would be showered with awards. You know you’re onto a winner when, within the first 10 minutes alone, he’s already violently murdered a mother and daughter under the influence of cocaine. Just a usual day for Willem Dafoe. The great Nicolas Cage isn’t bad as Troy either, doing his Nicolas Cage thing: remaining calm until something sets him over the edge and, y’know, all bets are off. Yes, he punches a woman in this. Of course he does. He’s Nicolas Cage.
Christopher Matthew Cook puts in a good performance as the brutish Diesel, the muscle of the gang – scarily intimidating in his size alone. Outside of the main three guys, there isn’t much to discuss in terms of the cast. Writer/director Paul Schrader makes his acting debut as Mafioso employer El Greco and, bless him, he’s trying his best. He claims to have approached Michael Douglas, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Walken, Nick Nolte, Jeff Goldblum and others to offer them the part, but to avoid going over budget, played the role himself. He doesn’t do a bad job, though. He’s just clearly a little uncomfortable.
The style of Dog Eat Dog is stunning, despite being shot over 25 days with a largely straight-outta-film-school crew. The editing is swift and the visuals ooze cool, keeping the seedy underworld feel of the film as dirty as it should be. It’s slick, yet often difficult to look at. It’s not a pretty world but it’s an engrossing one. You will be sucked into it, and spat back out at the end.
At the end of the day, Dog Eat Dog isn’t going to go down as one of the best crime films. Hell, it’ll probably be forgotten in a matter of months. But for its short 90-minute runtime, it’ll keep you hooked and engrossed. It’s violent, depraved and shocking. But it’s a hell of a ride. I honestly cannot see where all the hate has come from. Maybe it’s too violent and unpleasant, or too predictable and unoriginal in its plot. But hey, Willem Dafoe’s performance is worth the admission alone. Give this film a try and let’s get it the audience it deserves.
Don’t believe the hate! Dog Eat Dog is a wonderfully depraved journey into the criminal underworld. 4/5
Dog Eat Dog at CeX
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