‘Dog Eat Dog’ Review: Nicolas Cage Leads Down and Dirty Romp | TIFF 2016

     September 15, 2016


As with all Paul Schrader movies, Dog Eat Dog is a down and dirty bit of nastiness that leaves viewers feeling like they need to scrape something off of the bottom of their shoes by the time the credits roll. Unlike most Paul Schrader movies, it can also be described as a romp. A strange n’ surreal crime comedy filled with bad behavior, punishing consequences, lovingly ludicrous performances, and not a single moral center in sight. It’s such a cartoonishly lurid explosion of dirty imagery and perverse morality that you’ll either throw back your head and cackle along with the filmmakers’ filthy prank, or shake your head and storm out of the theater. Fortunately, it won’t take long to decide which camp you fall into.

The movie opens with either its best or worst scene, depending on your point of view. Willem Dafoe is introduced as the cranked up dirtbag Mad Dog and he quickly spits out a variety of horrid words then murders a Christian mother and her daughter. It’s all played for laughs until things go a little too far and teeters on the edge of tasteless and audaciousness, where Schrader stays for the rest of the running time. After that filthy intro, Nicolas Cage assumes voiceover and protagonist duty as Troy, a man born into money and driven to crime to maintain his lavish lifestyle. That landed him in prison where he befriended the appropriately named Mad dog as well as a broken hearted lug known as Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) and once they are all released they decide to form a crime trio.

Cage gets the gang jobs from his Mafioso connection “The Greek” (Paul Schrader, yes really). He gets them a couple safe assignments before landing one of those big final jobs that could earn them all enough cash to retire. It involves kidnapping a baby and as is the case in all of these sorts of stories, it only sounds easy. As written by convicted bank robber and cult novelist Eddie Bunker, the tale was supposed to be a bleakly funny tale about how “best laid plans” tend to not work out. As filmed by Schrader, it’s a surreal and slapstick odyssey through crime movie clichés and excessive cinematic style.


Image via TIFF

The flick makes no concessions to good taste or realism. The gang are essentially the three stooges with powder shoved up their noses and guns stuck in their pockets. Nic is in full on ragin’ Cagin’ mode where no line reading is too big and no reaction shot wasted. It’s the sort of thing that you’ll either consider is knowingly tongue-in-cheek and insane or unimaginably overacted (especially when he dives into a Humphrey Bogart impression for reasons best known to himself). Willem Dafoe isn’t exactly subtle by comparison, but he somehow finds a tragic core to his pleasure-seeking monster that is kind of heartbreaking in the ways he can’t help himself. Christopher Matthew Cook plays it fairly straight, which is a good thing. Cage and Dafoe are such bouncing balls of energy on their sides of the frame that it helps to have someone standing still in the middle.

The often reserved director Schrader goes completely nuts with style here. Scenes will be shot in black and white for the sake of it and movies as varied as Requiem For A Dream and Running Scared get visual nods. It’s almost as if every scene is designed to pay homage to another type of filmmaking and the only thing connecting all of the visuals is that they are hyper-stylized and over-the-top. The director approaches the movie as an assault on good taste and tired eyeballs, pummeling viewers with visual overload in a way that becomes exhausting. Undoubtedly that’s the point, but it’s also an undeniably overblown cinematic experience. It’s too much of a good thing and too much of a bad thing and quite frankly just much too much at all times.


Image via TIFF

That’s both the great strength and weakness of Dog Eat Dog. It’s a movie that doesn’t seem to know what it is other than giddily exploitative and audiences don’t exactly get much breathing room or pacing. The film is shrill and even if that’s the point, it does become headache inducing after a while and might be best viewed at home where it’s possible to hit pause and take a shower when the time is right. Yet at the same time, you could never claim that Dog Eat Dog is boring. Things are far too over-stimulating for that and Nic Cage goes farther over-the-top than he has in a while, which is a great news for anyone with a sweet tooth for trash. The flick wasn’t definitely a lark for everyone involved and they all had fun being bad boys making a naughty film. It’s unlikely anyone watching the results will have as much fun as they did making it, but at least they are invited to laugh along at all the dirty deeds these major movie players did dirt cheap.

Grade: C-

Dog Eat Dog does not currently have a U.S. release date.

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