J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Dog Eat Dog: Paul Schrader Adapts Edward Bunker

Troy Cameron would not know what to make of the Indians in the World Series. He is used to Cleveland being a city of losers. Cameron knows full well he and his criminal cohorts are three of the city’s biggest bums, but they hope a big, obviously ill-conceived caper will finally put them on easy street in Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog (trailer here), which opens in Los Angeles this Friday.

You can expect things to get a little sketchy, since DED is based on a novel by real life ex-con Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs). If you doubt his street cred, keep in mind Danny Trejo was his son’s godfather. Cameron and his regular accomplices, Mad Dog and Diesel, each already have two strikes, so they are also pretty serious customers. Cameron is the last of the three to serve out his second term, but they have patiently awaited his arrival, because Cameron is the one who arranges their jobs through a shadowy underworld figure known as Grecco the Greek. Most of those gigs involve knocking over rogue criminal elements for scores in the ten-grand neighborhood. However, this one will be different.

A deadbeat gangster has fallen behind on his payments to a bigger gangster, so Cameron and company are supposed to bring back some leverage. That means kidnapping the debtor thug’s infant son. Everyone adamant agrees the baby is not to be hurt (and he isn’t), but this kind of crime involves a whole new level of risk. Of course, things go spectacularly wrong, but rest assured not with respect to the rug rat.

It is important to emphasize that point, because the film starts with Mad Dog in the throes of a drug-fueled psychotic episode that will end in bloodshed. It is sequence that would easily fit into Natural Born Killers, so it might be too much for sensitive viewers to get past. (For what its worth, that is the toughest stuff in the film.)

In fact, Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Matthew Cook develop some pretty terrific lowlife buddy chemistry. It is nice to know Cage is still on the comeback trail following a nice supporting turn in Snowden and better-than-you-heard work in the underrated The Trust and Pay the Ghost (I still stand by my positive review of that one). Dafoe gleefully chews on the scenery, enjoying his ironic status as the unrestrained loon in a Nic Cage movie. However, the real discovery is Cook, who brings real gravitas and subtlety to the hulking Diesel. He also has a show-reel-worthy scene with Louisa Krause playing a young but unusually assertive prostitute. Even Schrader gets in on the fun, playing the Greek with the attitude and authority he probably wishes he could have commanded during the making of The Canyons.

DED is definitely a low-budget affair, but it is the sort of dark, tight caper film that is bound to attract an audience over time. It is probably too idiosyncratic for a nationwide opening, but it is guaranteed to make money over time. Arguably, this is exactly the sort of film Schrader and Cage should be concentrating on, rather than moody three-hour-plus character study-slash-terrorism thrillers that just beg to be cut down by the money men. Quite entertaining but not for the faint of heart, Dog Eat Dog is highly recommended for fans of amoral noir mayhem, when it opens this Friday (11/4) in Los Angeles, at the Laemmle Music Hall.

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