Dog Eat Dog has all the trademarks and tics you’d expect from Paul Schrader — twitchy griminess, awkward dialog, stray mentions of faith, ultra-violence, losers who just can’t win, cocaine, samurai references. But it’s overwhelming, mean-spirited mood connotes revenge more than anything else.
Sure, there’s the narrative itself, in which three ex-cons, in a respective cascade of cluelessness, are looking for one big, last score in the traditional fashion. (In a characteristic example of Schrader’s tone, Dog Eat Dog even allows one of these idiots — Christopher Matthew Cook, looking like a knuckle-dragging Sin City galoot come to life — to flatly state, “No one ever seems to come back from these one last jobs.”) Theirs is a mission that doubles as a way to exact revenge on a society that’s pushed them to the bottom, robbed them of possibilities, and made them irrelevant in their own lives.
Coming on the heels of his Dying Of The Light, the studio-manipulated disaster that Schrader and company publicly denounced in the most passive-aggressive way possible, it’s hard not to see Dog Eat Dog as his own personal revenge. And there’s nothing passive here about its protest; it’s all Schraderian aggression, from the outfits on down.
Set in a past-its-prime Cleveland, the camera edgily bouncing from shabby, red-lit titty club to $35-a-night motel room, Dog Eat Dog is decidedly cut-rate. These are guys whose delusions of grandeur are mocked by the very world they live in.
Nicolas Cage is the ringleader and mastermind, such as he is. Cook is the muscle. And Willem Dafoe is at his most unhinged as “Mad Dog”, a seemingly broken man who we first meet watching Asian porn in someone else’s house, ignoring an answering machine message about a middle school cupcake competition, and then brutally murdering his apparent girlfriend and her teenage child. Welcome to Dog Eat Dog.
The story itself is no great shakes — a plan is hatched, and that plan quickly goes wrong — but the nasty fun is in the interactions between Cage and Dafoe, and Schrader’s caustic approach to tone. Dog Eat Dog is a work of fairly fierce loathing for everything it sees — for our protagonists and for the world that made them.
It’s not without its lighter moments (the most memorable being coke-fueled Nicolas Cage spraying ketchup and mustard on his comrades in a slo-mo hotel room sequence, a sort of anti-erotic scumbag version of Girlhood‘s brief moment of Rihanna-inspired freedom), but they’re few and far between. Instead, the whole thing seethes.
Somebody, perhaps everybody, has pissed off Paul Schrader. Dog Eat Dog is the result, and we could do worse.
An Argentinian short about a young woman who shows houses and occasionally steals stuff, Frankenstein’s Bride starts nowhere in particular and moves on languidly from there, also to nowhere in particular. Its co-directors favor Eric Rohmer and Hang Sang-soo, evident influences, and their film bills itself as a Realist meditation on the way people fetishized the American dollar during Argentina’s financial crisis.
But none of it is heady as that synopsis: lead actress Miel Bargman anchors the narrative in a kind of pervasive casualness, whether she’s teaching a hustling friend how to pitch American tourists on exchange rates or making out with a film projectionist because a psychic told her to.
Sure, Alex Pettyfer is pretty irritating throughout, but Magic Mike and its sequel remain the least expected entries in the Steven Soderbergh canon, over-the-top campy and absurdly enjoyable. That is, if you enjoy watching Channing Tatum and his half-naked comrades stripping their way to well-choreographed empowerment and dopey brotherhood, while celebrating the joys of female voyeuristic pleasure. And what kind of monster doesn’t enjoy that?
(Streaming on Netflix)
The more nuanced of Eli Roth’s exactly two directorial efforts (the only other being Cabin Fever and please don’t disabuse me of this notion), Hostel has actual ambition and scares. Blending extreme cinema gross-outs with a political (and, I would argue, vegan!) subtext, it showed Roth’s promise and skill, back before he got side-tracked mocking Social Justice Warriors or whatever it is he does these days.
Oh well. This one still gives me the creeps.
(Streaming on Netflix)