"features a few genuine sparks of dark humour, and Dafoe and Cage give the roles their all"

Despicable characters are nothing new on screen. We’ve all discovered characters that we loved to hate, who broke society’s rules and stuck a giant middle finger up at those around them. However, we loved to hate them because they were intriguing, they had a modicum of charm, a great back story or fascinated us with their complexity. Look at Lord Voldemort, at Heath Ledger’s Joker, or even Darth Vader, one of the most iconic villains of all. They all had that extra element beyond just eviscerating their enemies.

However, when you simply stick horrible characters into a film without even trying to flesh them out, that’s where it stops working. Regardless of how prudish the viewers are, the majority of the audience don’t want to be in their presence and gets tired of their dull, one-note purpose. As a result, all too frequently the movie ends up mindlessly glamourising unspeakable acts to compensate for their villain’s lack of depth.

In case you hadn’t already guessed, Dog Eat Dog is a clear example of this. Directed by Paul Shrader, it’s a messy disaster. With his glittering CV as a writer for Scorsese, film critic and director, Shrader clearly knows his stuff, but having directed the tacky The Canyons in recent years, Dog Eat Dog doesn’t show any indication that he’s back on an upward slope.

The film stars Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook as a trio of newly released jailbirds. Before long, and mainly due to Dafoe’s psychotic Mad Dog, the three are back to their old ways of defying the law. That’s the plot really - it’s hard to come up with any other description. It’s no wonder that the Wikipedia page for this movie doesn’t even feature a summary.

It’s a shame too, because this film features a few genuine sparks of dark humour, and Dafoe and Cage give the roles their all, although placing Cage as the (somewhat) straight man is undoubtedly a questionable decision. They breathe all they can into lazy lines and empty characters but in the end, it doesn’t make enough of a difference, for one big reason.

These characters are extremely unpleasant to be around, without being interesting in any way. They spend most of their time in strip joints and if a woman comes anywhere in shot, you can pretty much guarantee that within seconds she’ll be tortured, treated like a sex object or simply killed. By the time we get a semblance of why the trio are the way they are, it’s too late and the film has already dragged on for an hour, glamourising their violent acts in a way that puts Tarantino’s most excessive films to shame. When the credits roll, you’re simply glad you’ve escaped them.

It’s hard to know the point of Dog Eat Dog. We see real life villains and violent acts everyday, painted without dimensions in the press. This film scrapes the barrel of that bad news and seems to enjoy it, portraying flat, violent characters without style, substance or the slightest depth. What a waste of Cage.