TIFF Journal: ‘Dog Eat Dog’

'Dog Eat Dog'

Movie Rating:

2.5

When some movies end, the only rational response is to wonder what the hell you just watched. ‘Dog Eat Dog’ is one of those movies. This bizarre romp from Paul Schrader is a dumpster fire of bad taste and competing tones.

Often, it feels like two or three different versions of the exact same movie competing for attention. It’s messy, absurd and downright filthy. Thankfully, it’s also a lot of fun. It’s the type of thing that will make you feel guilty for liking it, but is at least executed by folks intelligent and talented enough that you won’t feel alone.

Things kick off with Willem Dafoe’s hopeless drug addict, named Mad Dog, snorting up a storm and murdering the Christian mother and daughter he’s staying with. It’s played as funny until it’s not. Then we meet our actual protagonist and voiceover guide through Schrader’s latest odyssey of sin and degradation. Troy (Nicolas Cage) is a man born into old money and driven to crime to maintain his lifestyle. He meets Mad Dog in prison, along with a walking slab of muscle called Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook). Once Troy gets out of the joint, the trio decide to form a crime team (after some strip club R&R, of course). They take an easy robbery job and blow through that money quickly. Then Troy asks his crime boss (director Schrader in an awkward if amusing cameo) for something with a more substantial payoff. That ends up being a baby-napping gig that could land them a few hundred grand. Guess what? It goes wrong.

On a certain level, ‘Dog Eat Dog’ is a slapstick comedy with handguns. It’s a silly tale of immature boys behaving badly. At the same time, Schrader is too interested in the darkest recesses of the human condition to treat these guys like pure numbskulls. He also attempts to find their damaged souls in a mix of tones both wildly inappropriate and somewhat fascinating. Dafoe’s murderous addict with a conscience is the most intriguing character in this regard. Schrader treats him both as a hilarious doofus and a tragic lost soul. Dafoe nails both sides perfectly, never losing sight of his broken human no matter how silly things get. Nicolas Cage, on the other hand, tends to play things more absurdly and larger-than-life, as is his way. He even does one sequence entirely in a bad Humphrey Bogart impression and… well… it’s certainly impossible to forget, for better or worse.

The typically reserved Schrader shoots the movie in a series of quick-edit set-pieces not unlike a Guy Ritchie picture. It’s unclear if Schrader is mocking this sort of ADHD entertainment or courting it. Clearly, the movie’s parade of bad suits and neon lighting is supposed to be hilariously tacky, so maybe that’s what Schrader is attempting with his overly flashy filmmaking. To be honest, it’s difficult to say what anyone intended this toilet explosion of bad taste to be other than hilarious in a horrible, horrible way. It’s clear everyone is having fun, and if a few of the stabs at drama ring false (especially those involving the cardboard female characters), at least Schrader keeps his messy movie running by so quickly that little time is wasted before the next cheap thrill.

See ‘Dog Eat Dog’ near a shower. You’ll need one immediately after.

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