It's safe to say Paul Schrader’s career as a director has never been quite as successful as his career as the writer of such classics as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. But as much as it's hardly fair to compare Schrader's recent output to his glory days, it's also impossible not to consider his most recent film, Dog Eat Dog a huge disappointment. That is, unless you saw Schrader's last film Dying of the Light which also starred Nicholas Cage. In which case, things are looking up… slightly.
Dog Eat Dog is not only a re-teaming of Cage and Schrader, but also of Cage and Willem Dafoe; their first since David Lynch’s Wild At Heart. Based on the novel by real-life criminal Eddie Bunker, Dog Eat Dog is the tale of three jailbirds fresh out of the joint, who while looking to make some fast money, become embroiled in a plot to steal a baby from a rival gangster. With so much stupidity and psychopathic tendencies on display from the central trio, it's not a surprise that nothing goes to plan.
Opening with a talk show interviewee spouting some nonsense about making the world safer by having more people carrying guns, Dog Eat Dog feels like it’s perhaps going to be a contemporary crime thriller with something interesting to say. No such luck. Stuck in the typical gangster milieu of strip clubs and sleazy bars, with its grizzled old ex-cons spouting casually racist lines and engaging in bad taste ‘comedy’ killing scenes, this feels like Schrader trying to emulate Tarantino and all the hip young filmmakers who probably grew up adoring Schrader’s early output with Scorsese at the helm.
The tone is all over the place, wallowing in the coked-up excesses of this sad trio as they get themselves mixed up in a job that is out of their league. They make for a cheerless bunch; Cage taking the lead, but being blown out of the water by Dafoe’s electric, but completely OTT performance. It should be depressing, but they’re all so unlikeable that it’s impossible to care for any of them, even as they are revealed to be so far be out of touch with the world and far from the brightest sparks. Only Christopher Matthew Cook as Diesel, the third corner of this mismatched triangle approaches anything close to sympathetic with his toned down performance becoming a welcome relief from Cage and Dafoe’s attempts to dominate proceedings.
Schrader doesn’t help his stars by seemingly allowing them to try out anything and matching the craziness of their performances with a style that never settles. Schrader appears desperate to pack the film with zippy cuts and wacky editing in a vain attempt to give the film a modern edge. Unfortunately, all Dog Eat Dog reveals is a group of talented people with their best work long behind them.
DOG EAT DOG / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: PAUL SCHRADER / STARRING: NICOLAS CAGE, WILLEM DAFOE, PAUL SCHRADER, MAGI AVILA, CHRISTOPHER MATTHEW COOK / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 11TH