Something Fresh, Bold, and Forgettable. Being a director that’s just reached 70 and has four decades of filmmaking under his belt, this latest production has way too much energy, enthusiasm, and experimentation. It feels like the debut of a gutsy up and coming director, willing to showcase his fun and unique ideas and throw as much at the wall as possible and film every little piece that sticks. This is a fun film to watch, it’s got pizazz and follows moments and scenes with more moments and scenes that stick out with some new way to light and color or cut or violate the senses. It feels fresh, which is necessary for a film that houses a tired plot: three ex-cons who want one final “BIG” job to get wealthy and call it quits. We’ve seen this before, again and again, and again. Schrader knows this and decides this is good enough reason to twist things around and have some fun while filmmaking. Unfortunately, for all it has to offer, nothing is going to resonate much longer than the ending credits. A few moments might stick in your mind for a day, but this will quickly fade into another one of those films you remember seeing but don’t remember much else.
Something Enthusiastic, Charismatic, and Unhinged. The performances on display are what really makes this film watchable. As fun as the production and execution may be, the actors in these roles are what keep us interested. Nicolas Cage is surprisingly subdued in the role as the leader of the group, but that’s not to say he’s not doing what he’s good at. Willem Dafoe gets the award for being the crazy one, and what fun it is to see him do so. Willem’s character is a wonderfully hyper-emotional man who can quickly slide from tears to tearing you apart without a moment’s hesitation. Christopher Matthew Cook, while having his own outbursts that need to be controlled, actually grounds the gang the most. What’s special about the script is it allows us to dive deeper into the thoughts and feelings of these characters more than the genre typically allows. These are people who know they’ve done bad, and want to fit into life but simply don’t know how, or at least don’t have the right people around them to help them do so. These characters want (need) someone to talk to, but no one is hearing them right. These characters want to be better, to do better, but they don’t know how. You can’t like these guys, they’re criminals who have done some terrible things, but you can sympathize and understand their needs and desires. That’s something most crime caper thriller drama what-have-you’s don’t give enough time for.
Something Violent, Silly, and Weird. Dog Eat Dog is a hyper film. The editing and color are hyper at times. The character’s energy and actions are hyper. The violence is hyper. It’s a film that attempts to bring everything to 11 from the beginning and does its best to maintain the level throughout. When things get violent, it’s surprising and excessive. When characters explode, it’s fast and powerful. The fact that each scene jumps to the next without any extra fluff means there’s a momentum that drives us through the story without any kind of meaningful break. This is a script stripped to the bare necessities, with the necessities being magnified. At times it feels like we’ve jumped into a new film because of the change in tone and style (especially the ending…that last 10 minutes is a strange kind of thing). There’s a lot happening, but it keeps you engaged and interested in an otherwise rehashed story. We’ve seen this all before, we’ve seen these characters before, but we’ve never seen it displayed like this, and we’ve never spent this kind of time with these characters. It makes for something unique and worth mentioning amongst the clutter.