Thursday, November 3, 2016

Schrader/Bunker's DOG EAT DOG gives Nicolas Cage his most interesting role in some time

Compulsively watchable, even as it has you occasionally rolling your eyes, the new film by Paul Schrader and adapted by Edward Bunker from the novel by Matthew Wilder), DOG EAT DOG, is Schrader's most enjoyable, if hugely violent, in quite a few years. From its opening in a pastel-colored suburban home (soon to be heavily blood-splattered) to baby kidnapping-and-murder, it is also his most transgressive -- even given his past array, including The Comfort of Strangers and The Canyons.

Mr. Schrader, shown at right (and below, left), also plays a supporting role in the film, and he does a bang-up job portraying a criminal king- (or at least prince-) pin known as El Greco. I am guessing what attracted him as a filmmaker to this tale of really, really bad guys gone worse is its combo of macho posturing laced with light philosophizing on everything from love and need to religion and violence. In any case, it proves a very good match.

Visually, the film is lots of fun, too. As much as I've enjoyed and respected a number of Schrader movies -- from Blue Collar and Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters to Auto Focus and (especially) Adam Resurrected -- it seems to me that this screenwriter and director is loosening up quite a bit from his earlier, more restrained elegance (remember American Gigolo?) to a more relaxed and occasionally even enjoyably florid visual sense.

As restrained as proves Nicolas Cage in his role as the "leader" of a trio of pretty stupid criminals hoping to do that last job that will set them up for life, he is matched moment for moment by another oft-seen (and oft off-his-noggin) actor Willem Dafoe, who has here his juiciest crazy-man role in some years.

Cage narrates the film in a low-key monotone, which reaches its apotheosis in the final moments with a dark, ugly but maybe on-the-nose appreciation of us humans and our motives. Beforehand we're treated to the three first-class performances of Cage, Dafoe and the other member of the trio, a big, bald, beefy lug played with equal parts finesse and frightening menace by an actor new to me, Christopher Matthew Cook (below, right) -- who would steal the film were it not for his co-stars

The women on hand are more or less cursory, but several of them are given very nice scenes to play -- usually with fear and/or loathing, given the characters of the men they're up against -- and they accomplish this with some panache.

The old honor-among-thieves gets the usual workout here, but so dishonorable in so many way is our little group that it takes the film into new realms of betrayal. To note that no one gets out of here alive is to put it rather mildly. The fine cinematography is from Alexander Dynan, and the alternately ugly and gorgeous (oh, that scene in the diner!) production design comes from Grace Yun.

From RLJ Entertainment and running just 93 minutes, the film does not outstay its dark and stylish welcome. It opens this Friday, November 4, in Los Angeles (Laemmle's Music Hall 3) and New York (AMC Empire 25) on November 4th, with a theatrical expansion and VOD to follow on November 11th. The DVD and Blu-ray hit the street on December 27.

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