Just Been Watching…(75)

Dog Eat Dog (2016)

***No real spoilers***

This film had slipped by without me noticing, and I was very pleased to be introduced to it via the great blog of my friend, John Rieber. https://johnrieber.com/

Starring William Dafoe and Nicholas cage, directed by Paul Schrader, it had to be worth a look, surely? And it was based on a book by Edward Bunker, the former prison inmate and author who played Mr Blue, in ‘Reservoir Dogs’. I was thinking of getting the DVD, when the film suddenly appeared on a film channel listing. So I got to watch it for free!

This film sets out its stall from the first frame. In less than the first eight minutes of running time, we see lots of swearing, drug use and abuse, and two very violent murders of a mother, and her teenage daughter. It continues with more violence, some sex scenes, lap dancers, prostitutes, and more drug use. In case you relax for a moment, there are plenty more shootings and murders arriving like trains at a busy station. Then some more sex, followed by some disposal of bodies, and the kidnap of a baby. By the halfway point, I felt exhausted, and I was only sitting on my sofa watching it.

For a change, it is not Nicholas Cage who plays the unstable, drug addicted, ultra-violent criminal. That job goes to Willem Dafoe, who seizes it with both hands, and runs with it. He is very convincing too. When you discover that his gang name is ‘Mad Dog’, you need no explanation why. Cage is the cooler criminal, Troy. The sharp-suited fixer who arranges the jobs, and does the talking with the Mob. But he is equally unstable, if provoked. And he is often provoked. Troy is also obsessed with Humphrey Bogart, and narrates the story at times, noir-style. The third member of the crew is Diesel, played by Christopher Cook. He is a solid wall of a man who looks like the Incredible Hulk, but without the green skin. He makes no friends, and doesn’t tolerate fools easily.

They do dirty jobs for the big bosses of Organised Crime. Collect from debtors, beat people senseless, even kill them if necessary. They hang out in lap-dancing bars, strip clubs and hotels; drinking too much, and doing drugs, as well as any woman they can afford to pay for. But in a familiar theme, they long for that ‘big score’, enough money to split town (Cleveland) and head for Hawaii. When they are offered just that, by the Mob fixer El Greco, they cannot resist.

So, we have extreme violence, some sex scenes, murders, drug abuse, prostitutes, and a gang with no conscience. The film has the moody atmosphere that is the trademark of a Schrader film, and the plot of one from the mind of Quentin Tarantino. The cast is top drawer too. Is it any good?

Well of course it is.

It doesn’t ask us to sympathise with the criminals, and doesn’t try to give reasons or excuses why they have chosen a life of crime. It makes no apologies for showing the raw and seedy side of life, and pulls no punches about what it looks like when someone is stabbed multiple times, or shot in the face with a double-barrelled shotgun. It has no villains, as everyone is one. And there are no heroes either. The film is sold as a ‘black comedy’, but despite Dafoe sometimes going over the top deliberately, I didn’t find it funny at all. Just an old-fashioned crime thriller, with adult themes, and a cast that believed their roles totally.

But the ending is very strange, and I could have done without that.

Retro Review: Light Sleeper (1992)

***Spoilers avoided***

One of my favourite films of the 1990s, Paul Schrader’s gloomy tale of high-end drug dealers is rarely mentioned, and never shown on TV. Great central performances from two big hitters at the top of their game lifts this way above what you might think, given the familiar plot. Add to that some marvellous direction from Schrader, convincing sets, and a fine cast overall, and you are left with a thoughtful film that eschews flash and show, replacing those with style and talent in abundance.

Willem Dafoe plays John, a weary 40-something drug courier. He works for Ann, (Susan Sarandon) a smart businesswoman who specialises in supplying quality drugs to the rich and famous of New York City. John has trouble sleeping, (hence the title) so the late-night world of drug deliveries around the city suits his lifestyle very well. But both he and Ann are getting weary of the life, and of pandering to the mostly unpleasant clients who make demands on them. Ann dreams of setting up in the cosmetics industry, and John feels the need to make some radical changes in his life.

Enter John’s former girlfriend, Marianne. (Dana Delany) They have been apart for years, and lost contact, but when they meet again, John realises he still cares for her, and offers her the chance to escape her lifestyle. She later becomes connected with Tis, (Victor Garber) a wealthy client of John’s. Tis is being watched by the police, and that brings both John and Ann to their attention too. As all the events draw together for the inevitable conclusion, John cannot escape his destiny.

This is an excellent film, worth the time of anyone who decides to seek it out and watch it. I cannot fault a single performance, and the editing and direction is a pleasure to see. The mood and atmosphere is just right, helped by the authentic locations, and quality of the acting from everyone involved. A modern neo-noir that doesn’t disappoint, at any level.
Highly recommended.