Dog Eat Dog Review

Posted: October 21, 2016 in 2016 London Film Festival, Action, Reviews
Tags: , , ,

dog-eat-dog-paul-schrader-nicolas-cage-willem-dafoe-6Paul Schrader has had the privilege of being associated with some of the most important and prestigious films in history. Dog Eat Dog is not one of them. That, in just the slightest of paraphrases, was the introduction Schrader provided to his movie in remarks before its screening at the 2016 London Film Festival. The film rolled shortly thereafter, proving him absolutely correct. Dog Eat Dog is simultaneously nothing special and somewhat fascinating, the latter due to the enormous amount of talent associated with the project, starting with Schrader, but extending to a cast that features Willem Dafoe and Nicholas Cage as well as the source material for the script, a novel penned by Edward Bunker, an ex-con who starred as Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs and wrote the screenplay for Runaway Train.

Schrader, who penned Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, two of the greatest films in American cinema, served as director here. While there are unmistakable moments of visual genius, consistent near perfect pacing, and innumerable examples of the ability to elicit original, idiosyncratic performances, Dog Eat Dog just doesn’t work. But it’s a hellavu near miss. Almost every scene is perfect for film school deconstruction in technique, but when viewed as a continuous work, the overall product lacks the compelling narrative logic and drive that are requisite for a crime film.

And it is a crime movie for 2016 that Schrader sought to make. He wanted to pick up from where Tarantino has left us. Again, those are his words, provided in a Q&A session after the screening in London. So let us cut to the chase – the best way to see Dog Eat Dog, perhaps the only way in which a viewing can be recommended, is with commentary provided by Schrader. As it is unlikely that he plans on dropping by your neighborhood cinema or plopping down on your sofa when you stream it on demand, your best opportunity is find the video from his remarks in London.

You’ll learn how his involvement in the project, which deals with three ex-cons (Cage, Dafoe, and Christopher Matthew Cook) seeking that Holy Grail, The Big Score, but lacking the brains and the luck to pull it off, was tied to Cage. You’ll hear how Cage’s decision not to play the crazy one opened the door for Dafoe to come on board. You may wonder what led Schrader to take a role in the movie, his first acting appearance in a Hollywood career spanning over 40 years, and he’ll tell you that Marty was going to do it, but it was his birthday and they didn’t have enough left in the budget for a plane ticket for Quentin.

Schrader also shared how one of the funniest lines in the movie was an ad lib by Dafoe, who was immediately horrified by what had come out of his mouth. The moment comes during the pivotal scene in the story, when the trio’s attempt to kidnap a mobster’s infant goes bad. And throughout Schrader’s commentary and during the film itself, you’ll see and hear how one of the key figures in American movies is still in the game, still working to not only be relevant, but a step ahead. His riff on the relationship between directors of different generations and “the rules” makes it easy to overlook the flaws in his latest work.

Schrader was proud to have used a young crew, and it appears to have been a mutually beneficial experience. One can imagine them standing in up front of a film festival crowd in 10, 20 or 30 years, and recounting why the great Paul Schrader once filmed a strip club scene in black and white. And you can imagine that crowd going home and trying to find a copy of Dog Eat Dog to stream. That’s most likely the only legacy to come from this movie, but it’s not such a bad one when you think about it.

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