Film Review: Dog Eat Dog

Director: Paul Schrader

18 | 1h 33min | Crime, Drama, Thriller | 18 November 2016 (UK)

RATING: ★ ★ ★ ☆☆

It is kind of hard to blame writer/director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Blue Collar and American Gigolo) for wanting to cook up something quick and easy. His projects of late have either not been well received critically (The Canyons), have been cut up by studios (Dying of the Light), or both. But now he has come back with this darkly comic, ultra-violent and fast-moving crime drama that aims squarely (and safely) at the terrain ploughed by the likes of Quentin Tarantino. In fact, the Tarantino link goes beyond style and content. In 1992, Tarantino revealed his love for cult hardboiled crime author Edward Bunker by casting him as Mr Blue in his breakout crime thriller Reservoir Dogs. Schrader's Dog Eat Dog is actually an adaptation of Bunker's novel of the same name as penned by screenwriter Matthew Wilder, though it shifts the action from Los Angeles to Cleveland. It is a film that is clearly enjoying being nasty, does nothing particularly original, and the already short run time could have done with yet more trimming. But it does offer up some undeniably juicy treats for fans of nihilistic, gritty crime action - the kind laced with streaks of black comedy and where the capers are executed by sad-sack losers in the back alleys of nowhere, USA. 

For one thing, you have Nicholas Cage and Willem Dafoe -masters of playing unhinged types - in the same film, both playing low-rent Ohio-based gangsters looking for the big score that will finally pull them out of the big leagues. Dafo is admirably off the chain as Mad Dog, an old time prison buddy of hitman and armed robber Troy (Cage), who is recruited by his old friend along with the hulking shaven-headed ex-con Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) o kidnap the baby of a drug cartel middleman so as to enthuse the man to clear his debts to his big boss. As Mad Dog, Dafoe is both prone to fierce outbursts of temper and sadistic violence, but is also pathetically needy and lonely; spouting self help mumbo jumbo and pleas for empathy even when rolling bagged corpses around into hiding places. Like all the main characters in this film, he has been institutionalised to a crippling degree, so much so that he is prone to losing himself in the ecstasy of rubbing his bare feet on carpet- a pleasure denied him in the piss-stained stone corridors of prison. It is the kind of outsized role you'd actually have expected to go to Cage, who instead is playing (and this isn't saying much) the brains of the outfit. As fun as Cage and Dafoe are, Christopher Matthew Coo as Diesel also makes a real impression, a huge bear of a guy who, despite being as ruthless as the others, betrays a sort of profound sadness and frustration with how prison has left him with no options.

Needless to say, it all goes wrong from the start (their first victim is actually the guy they are supposed to be blackmailing, for one thing), and the trio seem to know that it will, making a coke and booze-fuelled oath before their scheme launches that they will go out 'samurai style' rather than risk going back to prison. Their journey to perdition is told in stylistically eclectic fashion - think druggy slo-mo sequences, rapid fire edits and lurid colours- that keeps the film diverting even if the combination of flourishes aren't anything that hasn't been seen before when it comes to this kind of material. Most of the laugh-out loud moments come courtesy of Cage and Dafo's blunders and banter; at one point the Smoke Screen was sure he caught sight of a brief clip of the two of them squirting mayonnaise on each other's chests while coked up and jumping on a hotel room bed. That can't be unseen in a hurry.


Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.