Writer-director Carlos Morena's Dog Eat Dog follows Victor Penaranda (Marlon Moreno) and Eusebio (Oscar Borda), two low ranking gangsters in the employ of El Orejon (Blas Jaramillo), a strange and reclusive man who suffers from severe agoraphobia and who never leaves his penthouse. As such, he runs his entire criminal operation from inside his abode. Soon after we meet them, Victor and is sent on a mission where he's supposed to interrogate someone but through an interesting twist of fate winds up killing El Orejon's godson and stealing a sizeable amount of the boss' cash.
Not so surprisingly, El Orejon is very angry about all of this and not only wants revenge, he wants his money back too. In a rather unusual move, he employs a witch to curse whoever was responsible for these crimes against him, all while his soldiers go on a manhunt to find the culprits. While they're on the run, Eusebio starts to become bothered by strange hallucinations while Victor starts getting odd phone calls from an obviously upset man who is trying to find his wife.
Dog Eat Dog is a mixed bag of a film. The slow pacing might throw off viewers looking for a fast shot of action, as it definitely takes its time and once it gets to the ending, well, it's really a bit of a cliché and it won't offer up much of a surprise to anyone. That said, the characters are well developed and the scenes of violence, of which there are quite a few, pack considerable impact and don't glamorize the actions or their repercussions the way that many gangster films tend to. Morena, who has previously made documentary films, shots the film with a gritty and 'you are there' feel, meaning that you're going to be in for a lot of shaky, handheld camera work, the kind made popular in films like The Bourne Identity and which tends to annoy some viewers. It works here in the context of the story and the world that it takes place in, though it can border on dizzying at times.
The gritty cinematography does do a good job of capturing the Columbian locations used for the shoot, though a whole lot of the movie takes place inside a hotel room so don't expect to be bombarded with a lot of wild location footage. There's a sense of real danger to a lot of the film which makes what the characters go through seem more realistic and makes the characters themselves feel more plausible. They make some stupid mistakes that career criminals probably wouldn't make, but most fans of the mob movie genre are going to be able to accept that at this point in the game as that's an all too common problem with many similar films.
When the dust settles and the end credits start to role, Dog Eat Dog wears its influences a little too plainly on its sleeve. It's an enjoyable enough film with some great ideas and some great moments but it's maybe just a little bit too reliant on a few too many gangster film clichés. The performances are strong enough across the board that the film is worth seeing - the actors all fit their parts quite well and feel right in their roles. Little touches of eccentricity help it to stand out a little bit, and the odd bits of dark comedy fit nicely against the cast of strange characters Moreno has assembled, but the pacing problems are going to put some people off of this and understandably so.
The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD is quite decent. Colors look a bit on the hot side in some scenes, obviously a stylistic choice on the part of the filmmakers. Skin tones look good, black levels are reasonably strong. Detail looks about average and the image is clean enough without any problems in regards to print damage, dirt or debris worth noting though some scenes have a sort of artificial grittiness to them, obviously put there for artistic effect. There aren't any compression artifacts to complain about nor is there any obvious edge enhancement. All in all, a solid effort from IFC.
The Spanish language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track is pretty good, with some nice channel separation present during the action scenes. Dialogue is well balanced and there are no problems to note with hiss or distortion. You'll hear the low end kick in any time a gunshot barrels across the screen and you'll notice it in the film's score as well. Optional English subtitles are provided, which appear to be free of any typos and which are easy enough to read.
Aside from a simple menu offering chapter selection, this release is completely barebones and offers no extra content whatsoever.
Well written, well acted and interestingly photographed, Dog Eat Dog doesn't reinvent the genre but it's reasonably good at what it sets out to do even if it suffers from some occasional pacing issues in the middle stretch. IFC's DVD looks and sounds just fine though the lack of extras is a drag. Regardless, if this isn't a movie you'll go back to time and time again, it's still one worth seeing at least once, particularly for fans of mobster films who might enjoy just a hint of Latin flair. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.