I don’t think there’s a figure in modern Hollywood cinema who divides so much criticism as Nicolas Cage, and it’s understandable why. He is an Academy Award winner, and for many who have seen The Wicker Man rather than Leaving Las Vegas, it’s understandable where the confusion lies. The noughties perhaps weren’t Cage’s golden days, stumbling through the likes of Knowing, but in recent times, he’s made us realise once more why we love him. In 2013’s Joe, he reminded us why he still gets offers, and in Dog Eat Dog, he doesn’t deliver quite that performance, but his casting isn’t to be questioned.
Troy (Nicolas Cage) is recently out of prison and rejoins his old buddies Mad Dog (Willem Dafoe) and Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) in a baby-napping job that promises to give them each enough money to perhaps go straight. Suffice to say, not everything goes quite to plan, and one might imagine the blame would lie at the feet of a character named Mad Dog. At its core, the story is a fine one, but it’s the chemistry between Cage, Dafoe, and Cook that makes this film worth watching. Dafoe’s character flies off the handle and is quite the drug user, but comes with a surprising sensitivity in tow, crying as he asks for five character flaws which he should work on. Diesel is a gentle giant, imbued with an intelligence that lacks knowledge due to his time in prison, but is a sympathetic character, even with his misgivings. In fact, all three are sympathetic despite all we see and hear on screen.
“The noughties perhaps weren’t Cage’s golden days, but in recent times, he’s made us realise once more why we love him”
The film is entirely inappropriate, rife with swearing, some innuendo and some much more explicit than innuendo, and violence. The BFI programme makes note of ‘the most un-PC ad-lib you’ll ever hear from the mouth of a Hollywood star’, but you’ll struggle to pick out which line they’re referring to.
It’s a flashy feature, with incredible amounts of neon and seedy strip-club lighting, but it certainly fits the aesthetic.
In all likelihood, Dog Eat Dog isn’t a film that’s going to make any particular mark on cinematic history, but that was never its intention. It’s often obscene, but it’s great fun. The trio deliver some fantastically enjoyable performances in their sublimely bizarre characters, and Paul Schrader doesn’t try to drag it out or push too much from Matthew Wilder’s script. It knows exactly what it is and if you’re happy to witness Cage doing a Bogart impression, you’ll not be disappointed.
Image: Paul Shrader