Bonsoir Crimeziners. All hail the American night. It is rare that the fates align so fully as they do this week on the
cinematic release of Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog featuring Nicholas Cage and Willem Dafoe; so the excitement at Casa del Crimezine is almost tangible.
Crimeziners will no doubt be aware that the movie is based on the book by legendary ex con and crime writer extraordinaire Ed [Mr. Blue] Bunker. Released in 1995, the book has been described by James Ellroy as, “the best armed-robbery novel ever written”. It is an ugly dirty book, based largely on the personal experiences that landed Bunker in prison. The themes of violence stupidity and betrayal feature heavily; it is easy to see from the very first page that the lives of those involved are never going to come good and we can only hold our collective breath as the pages flip by and we are drawn ever deeper into a spiral of conspiracy and degradation that is horrifying, compelling and exceptionally well written.
Paul Schrader needs no introduction. He is one of the great men of American cinema, a writer and director of exceptional talent and creativity. In a similar way to Bunker he has an understanding of adversity forged in hard fought experience. He once said he wrote the script for Taxi Driver while he was living rough in his car on Hollywood Boulevard, He said [to Bret Easton Ellis] that at the time he felt he was Travis Bickle. That understood, it is little wonder that Schrader became involved in Dog Eat Dog; a story that has much in common with the dysfunctional world of Travis Bickle, portrayed so unforgettably by Robert De Niro.
This is no mainstream crime movie. That is clear from the get go. The first five minutes of Dog Eat Dog are so dirty, weird and irredeemably nasty that strong emotions will rise within you—you may laugh, you may cheer, you may barf, and you may cry—you will certainly be clutching the seat rests, maybe even hiding behind the seat, your teeth embedded in the fabric, wondering just how bad, bad can get.
The horror comes in waves—the cast deliver performances that leave one wondering where reality ends and the snaking world of celluloid fantasy begins. Ghosts of David Lynch and the Cohn brothers rise before us. This can be no coincidence as the nexus of Willem Dafoe and Nicolas Cage conjures dark and surreal visions of Lynch’s 1990 movie Wild at Heart. Cage and Dafoe have decades of mainstream Hollyweird success behind them now, but it was darkness such as this [and the weirdness of the Cohn’s Raising Arizona] that led them on that path to mega stardom in the first place.
Dog Eat Dog is crime cinema at its ugliest and most primitive, but there is meaning and reason here too. We learn of the cruelty and dysfunction of the corporate world we also learn of the depth of struggle that the characters are involved in.
This is not a movie for the gone in 60 seconds generation, although they will no doubt thrill momentarily to the rampant drug use and cranial splatter that punctuates this savage tale. Schrader [who cameos in the move] delivers a characteristic humanity to the picture that lifts it high beyond b-movie status. In the hands of a lesser director Dog Eat Dog would have disappeared into a forgotten trench of hopelessness. But the man behind Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and American Gigolo [and many more] moves in a different realm to other filmmakers. Schrader is something else. He is something special. He has said he is not a crime director, but let’s hope he makes another crime film soon, maybe something out of the Elmore Leonard oeuvre. When you see this movie you will see this happening—so clearly it might well be a prophecy from on high. Go see Dog Eat Dog today, tell ’em Crimezine sent ya. Tell ’em “I didn’t want justice, I just wanted what I wanted.”