Mad Dog & Glory
Director: John McNaughton.
Screenplay: Richard Price.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Bill Murray, Uma Thurman, David Caruso, Kathy Baker, Mike Starr, Richard Belzer, Tom Towles, Jack Wallace.
“Women, you can’t live with them and you can’t kill ‘em.”
Whatever happened to director John McNaughton? Not since the Matt Dillon/Kevin Bacon neo-noir, “Wild Things” in 1998 have I heard his name mentioned. Apparently he’s still making stuff but he seems to have fallen into television obscurity despite showing some early potential with his brilliant, yet brutal and violent debut, “Henry: Portrait of a serial killer” in 1990.
Shy and retiring police detective Wayne Dobie (Robert DeNiro) – ironically nicknamed “Mad Dog” due to his gentle nature – has a chance encounter one evening. During a liquor store hold-up, Wayne saves the life of Frank Milo (Bill Murray), who it later turns out is a local influential gangster. As a form of gratitude Milo sends a gift to Wayne in the shape of Glory (Uma Thurman) for Wayne to have “fun with” for a week. After reluctantly accepting, Wayne finds himself falling in love and determined to save Glory from the control and ownership of Milo.
Director McNaughton begins this film with excellent use of black and white bursting into colour with the smoke of a crack-pipe during a drug deal. With this edgy beginning it looks like we will be treated to another gritty urban tale like his previous films. However, as the story progresses it transpires that it has a gentler tone than first expected and verges, at points, into romantic comedy territory. Despite this shift in tone, though, it soon becomes apparent that it’s not really gelling with the genuinely dangerous situations and characters involved. It can’t quite seem to decide what genre it wants to be in and there’s also an uncomfortable message of glorifying macho behaviour that runs throughout. DeNiro’s shrinking violet is never really accepted until he displays his macho potential and all the other male characters walk around with chests puffed and fists clenched, leaving the females – primarily Thurman and the underrated Kathy Baker – nothing more than cowering damsels in distress. That being said, you still have to admire it’s off-beat chutzpah and refusal to be pigeonholed. What it certainly has in it’s favour is a plethora of superb performances; casting Robert DeNiro and Bill Murray against type, is a stroke of genius and keeps things very interesting indeed. David Caruso is also brilliant, reprising his confident, tough cop role that he done so well on the Tv show “NYPD Blue”. These fantastic performances are what make this film standout and worthy of some attention.
It’s hard to be overly satisfied with it’s different tones and uneasy balance with humour and crime. But even though it’s not entirely successful, it’s at least ambitious, does things differently and benefits from a cast that entirely committed.