Paul Schrader is a fraud. A controversial statement that may be, but one devised from undeniable truth. The “acclaimed” writer-director – who still shamefully milks involvement in Martin Scorsese masterpieces – is yet to make a film of any merit or validity off his own lazy back since 1980’s American Gigolo. In 2016, he reunites with actor Nicolas Cage following their botched and outrightly disowned Dying of the Light (2014) for Dog Eat Dog; a nihilistic crime caper that seriously lacks bark and bite.
This downright moronic and immature film follows a trio of drug-addled, booze-drenched, whore-draped ex-cons, played respectively by Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook, who are hired by a Cleveland mafioso to kidnap the baby of a rival mobster. Whilst child abduction isn’t their typical forte – they favour petty jobs and lots of bullets – the payout is simply too tantalising to dismiss. As you’d most likely expect, such a scheme does not go to plan, placing pack leader Troy (Cage), and sidekicks Mad Dog (Dafoe) and Diesel (Matthew Cook), into deep and uncharted territory.
Much like the cliché-riddled narrative which borrows everything from the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Scorsese himself, Dog Eat Dog lacks any sense of originality or intrigue from the get-go. The film opens with a horribly misjudged and ridiculous sequence in which Mad Dog repeatedly stabs a women he’s been sleeping with, before shooting her young daughter in the head. Played for dark laughs, the scene informs audiences that Dafoe’s character reacts to any sense of confrontation or hostility with insatiable violence. Whilst this in itself is not an issue, Schrader’s film – atrociously written by Matthew Wilder (Your Name Here) – never even attempts to peel a further layer back. That’s Mad Dog’s character complete. Within five minutes. It’s almost like Wilder is saying “Well, he is called ‘Mad’; what more do you want?”
Then there is Cage who is just playing Nicolas Cage again for the umpteenth time. The ‘act’ cannot even be called an act as this point. It is just comatose performing; so lifeless, recycled and empty. If anyone can place a hand-upon-heart and say that they aren’t indescribably bored and frustrated by these ridiculous roles Cage provides then you are either a martyr or a liar. Matthew Cook is moderately less annoying than the two leading knuckleheads, but then again his only reason to feature is to adopt the ‘muscle’, which in film language translates to: imbecile who could punch you quite hard…
Worse than the terrible collective performances, the dismal screenwriting, and the hideous assortment of ratio alternations and colour pigmentations (shifting from noir-inspired black and white, to feverish, heady blues and reds with zero finesse), is Schrader’s direction. The guy is just clueless when it comes to arranging imagery and exercising frames to their fullest potential. So much of Dog Eat Dog takes place in wallowing, static sequences which fail to utilise their sense of space and environment. He also is seemingly incapable of actually harnessing his lens in a interesting manner, too; constantly relying on wobbly close-ups rather than trying to establish a scenario and enable his cast to give it body. Schrader comes from a film academia background, but so does this author, and never once has one presumed that I could direct, so why the hell does he?
Dog Eat Dog is marginally less insufferable than say The Canyons (2013) – which is arguably one of the worst postmodern American films in history – but it is another film from a director with no remote understanding of his job, another film with a typically terrible Cage performance, another film which plagiarises past and vastly superior offerings, and another 2016 release you should steer well clear of. This is one tatty, flea-infested mutt.
Dog Eat Dog arrives in UK cinemas on Friday 18th November.