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USA 2016
Directed by
Paul Schrader
93 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Dog Eat Dog

If you enjoy gallows humour Dog Eat Dog will be a must see. If not, you’re probably best off avoiding it.

Concerned with the activities of three small time crooks Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook), Mad Dog (Willem Dafoe) and their leader Troy the film opens with an outrageous, tone-setting scene in which a coked-up Mad Dog disposes of his XL girlfriend and her comparably XL daughter in a murderous frenzy. The kicker is that we see this take place in a Barbie-style pink and blue house to the accompaniment of a toe-tapping ‘60s pop tune. Clearly we’re not in Kansas anymore.

We’re actually in Cleveland, Ohio and Troy, who provides intermittent laconically noirish narration, has just got out of jail. The three friends meet in a strip club where he tells them about a job they have to do for Mob fixer “El Greco” (Schrader). Having completed this successfully The Greek gives them another job – to kidnap the baby of one mobster who owes a large amount of money to another mobster. It’s risky business but as each of the three are two-time offenders (America has three strike rule) and the job promises a hefty payout they decide to do it but in what Troy calls “samurai style” (much cooler than the Three Musketeers' “One for all, all for one”).

Whilst Schrader doesn’t exactly repeat the Grand Guinol irony of the opening scene Dog Eat Dog still has a lot going on as the three loose cannons carry out, or better miscarry out,  their drug-fueled assignment with gory gun action, lurid post-production treated visuals and writer Matthew Wilder, working from a novel by Edward Bunker, providing lots of Tarantino-esque dialogue that riffs on pop cultural referents and wanders off topic notably in one hilarious, extended sequence in which the earnestly dim-witted Mad Dog belabours the contrastingly uncommunicative Diesel about the possibility of him, Dog, becoming a better person. Farcically this takes place while he and Diesel dispose of the body of a gangster Dog mistakenly shot. Dafoe fans will enjoy the actor's deliciously tongue-in-cheek work here (who knew he was so small?) whilst relatively subdued Cage and Cook both provide effective foils.

For reasons that elude me Schrader’s film was widely panned by critics and failed at the box office. Words such as “crass” and “pointless“ regularly appeared in what seems to have been some kind of tidal wave of moral disdain. Hello? Has anyone seen Pulp Fiction (1994), invariably cited as a masterpiece of the genre in which John Travolta blows off the head of a college kid?  Really, what do you want for a film about three sociopathic terminal losers?  I can imagine that in its day (1960) Psycho, now universally regarded as a classic, was similarly pilloried for similar moralizing reasons.  Is this, one asks a function of America’s rampant political correctness?.

One aspect of the film eluded me and that is the extended coda-like finale which I can only explain as some kind of dream or reverie being had by Troy who when we last saw him was being led away handcuffed by police. After being brutalized by two policemen/perhaps henchmen he turns up at a ‘50s style diner, hijacks an elderly black couple before going down “samurai style” in a blazing gun battle. As the film is so much more about style than content and the ending is on this basis consistent with what has gone before this doesn’t really matter that much. It may also have been the result of the film's relatively small budget having been shot in twenty-five days.

Dog Eat Dog is certainly not for everyone but if you like your comedy dark it doesn’t get much darker, or funnier, than this.




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