Director Paul Schrader’s 2016 film, Dog Eat Dog is a sort of ‘90s throwback, a post-Tarantino crime drama top-lined by Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe. It’s not exactly Reservoir Dogs, but these guys have serious talent and that shines through in this adaptation of Eddie Bunker’s pulp fiction.
Dog Eat Dog is an energetic and violent flick that sees a trio of drug fuelled miscreants (Cage, Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook) kidnapping a baby whose father owes some serious dough to a crime lord. They’re not the brightest bunch of criminals (like coked-up Three Stooges) and things don’t exactly go to plan – cue bloodshed and sparky dialogue.
Schrader and Cage previously worked together on The Dying of the Light, a film which was taken away from the director and recut by the producers. Dog Eat Dog was a a cinematic exorcism, a cleansing to end their artistic union on a high. You’d expect Cage to be the live wire here, but his character is the straight man (the smartest dumb guy in the room) it’s Dafoe who plays-up the ticks as the twitchy ‘Mad Dog’. They’re a good team and this is the first time the pair has shared the screen since David Lynch’s Wild At Heart way back in 1990.
The Independent arena has taken a serious hit since the 1990s and now movies like this are getting limited cinematic releases before hitting VOD and DVD. Schrader might be 70 years old but he still has the rebel sensibility that brought us the likes of Taxi Driver and Blue Collar. Cage and Dafoe also continue to do good work, fighting against a tide of shrinking audiences and attention spans. They’re not selling out, they’re still trying to do their own thing in a world where film funding places the number of social media followers above talent.
Dog Eat Dog might be filled with unlikeable characters but the performances are good and Schrader directs with fervour. It might not be a knock-out success but it’s great to see these old pros fighting the good fight for art in the face of commerce – and that’s no bad thing.