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Review: Dog Eat Dog – “A mad film for a mad world”


Paul Schrader’s auteurist obsession with decadence and bruised masculinity reaches its most elaborate with Dog Eat Dog, a film brazenly attempting to ignore the existence of defunct notions like morality or convention. If Schrader’s underrated erotic thriller The Canyons (2013), a collaboration with author and fellow moralist Bret Easton Ellis, was an attempt to allude to the ice-cold nothingness at the core of American existence, starring as it did Lindsay Lohan and porn-star James Deen, this is his full-throttle attempt to depict a post-moral, post-ideological world in all of its violent and anarchic catharsis.

If feels somewhat fateful that collaborating on such a project is Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe (his 7tht collaboration with Schrader), two actors who have been pushing the boundaries of what we consider to be actorly flamboyance for some time. Dafoe regularly goes bold with cinema’s artistic elite (portrays them in the case of Pasolini), while Nicolas Cage does the same within the free arena of direct-to-video genre kitsch. Schrader, Cage, Dafoe: a dramatis personae of eccentricity that contemporary Hollywood don’t quite know what to do with but provide ample fun when together.

Since the turn of the millennium, Schrader’s reputation has experienced a gradual entropy within the critical and industrial circuit; while once the writer of quintessential Renaissance films such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, his unparalleled ability to write paranoid and fragmented masculinity gained him favour but has since made him a victim of a changing landscape in American cinema. The low-point certainly being his previous film and first collaboration with Nicolas Cage, Dying of the Light (2014), a film so calamitous (studio interference being the oft-cited reason) that one wondered if Schrader could ever recover his artistic voice. Dog Eat Dog is a cathartic and bloody operation to regain this voice and, we are pleased to say, the operation is an empowering success.

There is undoubtedly a sense when watching this stylistically overwrought film that everyone involved with Dog Eat Dog, Schrader most of all, is desperately throwing what they can at the wall and hoping something sticks. But luckily plenty does: sordid black humour, Tarantino-esque aesthetic violence, off-piste plotless indulgences and, most crucially, Cage and Dafoe’s off-the-wall performances as lovable deplorables. As Troy and Mad Dog, respectively, their unscrupulous hedonism and volatile masculinity often result in the most banal elements of life concluding with random moments of extreme violence and extreme stupidity to the riotous joy of the not-easily-offended viewer.

Where once Schrader directed realist tales of the descent into madness and violence in an exceptionally measured feature like Affliction (1997), the fast-forward brash perversity of Dog Eat Dog, its tastelessness and iconoclasm, is exactly what is required of American cinema in 2016; gone are the days for being demure, polite and understated, and here are the days of Dog Eat Dog – a mad film for a mad world.


Dog Eat Dog opens in the UK on 18th November 2016.

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