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  • Benjamin May

Dog Day (1984) Review

Jimmy Cobb is a tough as nails gangster on the run in France. He's got a hot couple of million with him, and the cops are on his tail. In the idyllic countryside, Cobb takes refuge at a farmhouse to plan his next move. Little does he know that his situation is about to become even more complex, for the family whose barn he's in are a depraved bunch just as bloodthirsty and cruel as he is. Will Cobb be able to escape the farmhouse with his loot before the authorities or the family- led by a malevolent and diminutive boy named Chim- stop him dead in his tracks?

Directed by Yves Boisset, 'Dog Day' is a misguided mess of a movie. The screenplay is credited to a whopping six different people, which is unsurprising considering the disjointed nature of the narrative. It feels like the six writers were all working on separate projects, which one of them tried to combine; unsuccessfully, one might add. The result is an uneasy mixture of gory violence, farcical comedy and gangster romanticism that is tonally schizophrenic and totally underwhelming. Which is not even to mention the numerous stilted lines of dialogue or the plethora of sub-plots that go nowhere, as well as the paper-thin characterization and misogynism exhibited continuously in the film.

Despite all that, 'Dog Day' does inspire rumination. Is it meant to be a commentary on the conventions and aesthetics of crime thrillers? If so, is the inclusion of cliché after cliché actually a highly calculated and brilliant move, rather than evidence that the filmmakers were bereft of any original ideas? Are they trying to satirize the genre, or pay homage to it? Is the film saying something profound about viewers' responses to violence? Does Boisset even care that audience members wonder about these things?

Sadly, putting the effort into thinking about those questions is a lot more than 'Dog Day' deserves, for it is a technical dud as well as a creative one. Jean Boffety's cinematography is ugly and uninspired, with the few interesting stylizations and sequences being stolen from other films ('Prime Cut,' most notably). Never before has such a beautiful landscape been captured with such little verve or style. Unfortunately, the underwhelming visuals are matched by Francis Lai's melodramatic score and bolstered by the cheap sound design and effects.

Were the film well-acted, the above detractions might not be so overwhelming. Alas, the performances from the cast vary wildly. Lee Marvin stars as Cobb, delivering a measured performance; though he does seem bored and exhausted throughout. One of his last cinematic outings, Marvin deserved a better project than this- and it looks like he thought the same. Miou-Miou co-stars, also doing fine work, though her role is terribly underwritten, and there is little she can do with the character. The same can be said for Jean Carmet and Tina Louise- their talents are largely wasted.

Then there is David Bennent, who the director obviously adored. A young chap of ten or so, he plays Chim; an odious little tyke who redefines the meaning of irritating. An incredibly over-the-top performer, Bennent has no screen presence to speak of, and is something of a charisma vacuum. Why his character is made the central one- and why he was cast in the first place- is thoroughly beyond understanding. As for the rest of the cast: they're no better than Bennent, and warrant no more mention than that.

A cheap-looking effort made without passion or originality, 'Dog Day' is a creative and technical travesty. Though featuring a strong performance from star Lee Marvin, even he cannot save this one from the realm of mediocrity. The cinematography is nothing to write home about, the score is overblown and many of the performances are irritating. There is really very little reason to watch it, unless you're a die-hard Marvin fan- but even then there are better ways to spend your time. In short, 'Dog Day' is underwhelming, uninspired and ugly.


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