From beginning to end this film is violent, degrading and just plain mean. This is also meant to have the darkest of humour but its pitch black that its very difficult to see through it to the story about three grown men who kidnap a baby for money.
Having created a stir at festivals, hailing mostly Willem Dafoe’s psychotic killer character, it was labelled as a dark comedy, then a crime drama with a few laughs. If this is to be believed, then it is the blackest, darkest of comedies.
Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook are Troy, Mad Dog and Diesel who are low down criminals all recently released from prison. They take on bit crimes to make a bit of money here and there, all brokered through ‘The Greek’, an agent for criminals. But when the group are hired to kidnap a baby to ‘encourage’ the father to pay what he owes to the mafia, things go wrong. Even the characters themselves point this out.
As ominous ‘crime goes wrong’ stories go, the lead up to the kidnapping is a heck of a lot longer than the actual event and aftermath. The characters introductions are a standard genre element, similar to those of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie’s early films, making sure the audience knows exactly what these men are like and what to expect. Cage’s Troy is the leader, previously wealthy, wants more from life but won’t do anything legitimately. Cook’s Diesel, is an intelligent thug for hire who gets himself into arguments very easily. Then there is Dafoe’s Mad Dog who a drug addled maniac who claims two thirds of the way through that he wants to change his crazy ways. All three spent time in prison, longer than any of them wanted and they really do not want to go back. But instead of seeking redemption, they crawl deeper into the cesspit through degrading treatment of women, snorting a kilo of cocaine and killing people who get in their way.
It is clear that Paul Schrader is going for an offensive, abrasive style where it’s completely off the wall but painfully cruel at the same time. In a perfect world, another collaboration between Cage and Dafoe was long overdue, as these two when they let loose, magic can happen but in this story, as these characters, its feels as if it’s just too much. The screen isn’t big enough for the both of them. The film comes across that is isn’t about story or even character, it more about what happens and how it unfolds, the more shocking or disturbing the better.
From the harrowing, unflinching beginning to the drawn out end, the film is difficult to watch, especially if you’re wondering why most, if not all the women that appear are used, abused or murdered. It would have had a place somewhere 15 or 20 years ago but in the current sea of cinema, Dog Eat Dog would considered a niche film with a familiar genre.
Saved by Nicolas Cage rather Willem Dafoe who changes, strangely out of character for his character, too late in the film to be considered a development, Cage’s character is matter of fact and just wants things to get done, gives the film a pace and a somewhat useful insight. But ultimately, the film has a mean streak too thick to appreciate more.
Dir: Paul Schrader
Scr: Paul Schrader, Matthew Wilder
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Matthew Cook, Paul Schrader
Prd: Mark Earl Burman, David Hilary
DOP: Alexander Dynan
Run time: 93 minutes
Dog Eat Dog will be released in cinemas on 11th November