Justine A. Smith’s weekly column “Of Love and Other Demons” is a treasure of the internet, and surely one of the best things that you can read on Vague Visages. At any time, you can just pop down the chimney and enjoy some quality writing on a bunch of interesting films. Coincidentally, she’s writing about the films of Paul Schrader this month, and this piece covers Schrader’s latest film, Dog Eat Dog, which premiered at Cannes and opened the latest edition of SANFIC (the director was also a guest in the festival). While I can’t say that I’m an expert like Justine on the wonderments that Schrader may conjure up (I’ve only seen his last three films, and they are… wildly different to say the least), I can say that Dog Eat Dog is one of the weirdest mainstream films of 2016.
The film opens with a pink-tinted sequence in which “Mad Dog” (Willem Dafoe) sits in front of a TV while he does a bunch of drugs, answers the phone and confronts the woman who owns the house (his girlfriend), only to later be called out for watching Asian porn on her laptop. He cuts the woman’s throat and then shoots her daughter under a pillow. I guess that’s one way to start a film. The most incredible thing is that none of this is brought up again until the last 30 minutes of Dog Eat Dog. It also serves as a way to introduce to one of the three main characters, as Dafoe plays one of the most insufferable, violent, crazy and absolutely hateful characters of his career.
Dog Eat Dog continues, after the opening credits, in a long black and white sequence that takes place in a strip club, introducing the two protagonists, Troy (Nicolas Cage) and Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook). Neither actor receives the same introduction as Dafoe, but they do their best to counter the weight of that performance. The film is mostly about the inherent madness of people who commit crimes, especially when it comes to violent acts (shooting, killing, kidnapping). Both are looking for a second chance after their time in jail, and the only way they’ll achieve some freedom (so they think) is in lieu of committing more crimes to earn more money. You know what they say: madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And Dog Eat Dog doesn’t hide the fact that these three characters are completely devoid of empathy.
The majority of people will call this movie disjointed, amateurish and uneven… and honestly, it’s all that and more. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. The bold decisions make Dog Eat Dog one of the most impressive looking mainstream films out there, complemented by Cage doing a Humphrey Bogart impression out of the blue, and how the film turns into a first person shooter for a couple of seconds, and even how it becomes a Grand Theft Auto simulator for a full sequence. The use of light and color isn’t consistent, as it shifts from expressive to utilitarian. What is the meaning of this? I think that Schrader is just reaching out, trying to stretch his directorial arms, trying to show everything that he’s got. And that’s fine, because he made a nasty, entertaining romp.
Jaime Grijalba (@jaimegrijalba) is from Chile and has been writing about film, literature, videogames and culture for the past six years. He’s also preparing his first feature-length film, since he’s a filmmaker too (or wants to be at least).