Dog Eat Dog
There’s a boisterous, gory charm to Paul Schrader’s film that conceals a rather thoughtful subtext. Based on the novel by Eddie Bunker, San Quentin Prison’s youngest inmate as of 1951, Dog Eat Dog is a semi-autobiographical story that draws upon the author’s own hardships following his release.
Starring Nicholas Cage and Willem Defoe as ex-cons hired to kidnap a rival mobster’s baby, the narrative follows their antics as they resort to crime once more as a way of finding purpose in their lives. It’s an overworked concept that has been brilliantly reimagined into a trippy, hedonistic bloodbath, with imagery to equal Tarrantino.
The opening sequence is an intriguing introduction to Willem Dafoe’s character, Mad Dog, who “self medicates” an alarming amount of cocaine in a vibrantly kitsch room, before murdering his heavyset lover. In a strange way, it’s a cathartic experience, watching the path of destruction the protagonists carve, and it’s punctuated by darkly humorous moments: Cage’s hopeless attempts to woo prostitutes becomes a running gag, and Defoe manages to snort a line off all the props.
Despite this, there’s a bumbling feel to the movie that stems from false security; a cocky attitude mixed with striking visuals from cinematographer Alexander Dynan will help make Dog Eat Dog a cult hit, but it fails to draw in its audience. The stereotypical characters, from the leads to supporting cast make it hard to empathise, and in the end it feels like the plot is simply going through the motions of storytelling while on LSD.
The power behind the cinematography, other than the sheer technical talent, is the masculinity crisis portrayed on screen, parallel to our own reality. It explores the sense of anomie derived from our society’s fragmented them-and-us culture, reinforced through wealth, colour, gender, and resulting in our anti-heroes clinging desperately to each other in a world that makes no sense to them after their lives in institutionalised prison.
It’s a powerful story that isn’t investigated nearly enough, and it’s a real missed opportunity when the book behind the film was written by a man who wrote about his personal criminal experiences.
Dog Eat Dog lives up to its name as a chaotic blood fest of cinema, and is tongue in cheek enough to win most over. While it’s not his finest moment, Schrader has created something that will no doubt gain a devoted following, due in part to its pedigree cast.
Dog Eat Dog is released on 18th of November 2016.
Watch the trailer for Dog Eat Dog here: