DOG EAT DOG (2016)

Flashily shot, ultra-violent and at times absurd. Paul Schrader’s fast-moving failed heist movie stars Nicholas Cage and Willem Dafoe.

Noir Means Noir

by Alexa Dalby

Dog Eat Dog

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Multiple deaths, some more gruesome than others, pepper this movie like a spray of bullet holes and deaths, when they come, can be simply arbitrary. Three incompetent just-released ex-cons team up for the one-last-job trope. What could possibly go wrong?

Dog Eat Dog starts with a stomach-churning first scene as Willem Dafoe as cocaine-fuelled Mad Dog – the clue’s in the name – weedles his way back into the girly pink-tinged home of his ex-girlfriend and her daughter with brutally violent consequences. It switches briefly then into black and white as he meets up with Troy, a besuited Nicholas Cage, and Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) to plan their next job. They’ve been inside so long that they’re out of touch with the world and a running gag is their failure to understand who Taylor Swift is. As their leader, Cage is effectively playing the straight man. Or rather, what passes for one in their mad environment as when the film switches back into colour, we see the startling baby blue of the sharp suit he is wearing.

Director Paul Schrader, who wrote the screenplays for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull among many others, himself plays El Greco, their underworld contact. The first job he gives them is a robbery that only goes slightly wrong. But after that the plot revolves around their failed kidnapping of the baby of a rival gang leader who owes him money and that goes horribly wrong.

Dog Eat Dog is based on a 1995 pulp novel by Edward Bunker and it shows. It centres on three unpleasant characters whose repulsive actions are amoral and almost impossible to care about. Many innocent people get gratuitously hurt or killed. The movie is noirish, flashily shot, ultra-violent and absurd. Its characters are the apotheosis of personal expression at the expense of morality.

Dog Eat Dog was the closing film of the Directors Fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival, it screened at the 60th BFI London Film Festival and is released on 18 November in the UK.

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