6 out of 10 Release
Date: 27th January 2014 (DVD Premiere)
Director: Tammi Sutton
Cast: Barbara Nedeljakova, Edward Hogg, Andrew Howard, Del Synnott, Gwilym Lee, Laura Pyper and Stuart McQuarrie
Writer: Sean Hogan
Trailer: ISLE OF THE DOGS
Isle of Dogs is a silly title seeing as the film doesn’t seem to be set there nor do islands nor dogs feature prominently. (An IMDB reviewer thinks the title is ‘a subtle metaphor for loyalty and captivity’. That’s too subtle for me.) Indeed the only dog in the film gets shot after about five minutes (don’t worry animal lovers, he seems to be panting quite happily after being painted with jam) by a gangland overlord played by Andrew Howard (LOVE ME STILL). He is the archetypal / stereotypical gangster – a hard man happy to do the dirty work but even happier when torturing weaker men and women – you know the drill. Howard is great fun but probably about ten years too young; the role as written seems to be a much older gangster who’s seen and done it all before. He’s married, and I’m sure this will come as no surprise, to a beautiful former prostitute who he claims to have ‘rescued’. She’s played by Barbara Nedeljakova (THE HIKE) who gets to do lots of enigmatic smouldering and suffering. The story is pretty straightforward – wife wants to get away from vicious husband and has an affair. They plan to run away together, but then someone tries to kill her. But who? And why? And what are the dark secrets in almost every bathroom in the house? Although it sets itself up as a gangster film, it’s mostly concerned with a deadly love triangle. Flashbacks are used liberally so as to keep us in the dark as long as possible, but having someone dress up as the 1940s version of the invisible man so as to hide his identity is more laughable than mysterious. This is a shame because up until he pops his seemingly white bandaged head up the film had been working quite well. After the rather too Guy Ritchiesque opening the film becomes very moody and darkly lit, with a sustained menacing atmosphere. The film seems to enjoy humiliating and abusing Nedeljakova a little too much, though at least the film is about her and her reactions, rather than her just being some passing abusable wench. The scenes involving the kitchen and the snooker table are particularly hideous yet eerily effective. This is one of several films I’ve seen lately which have taught me that weapons and violence have no effect and gaping wounds don’t hurt much. Guns can blast someone in the chest but he’ll still be up and about later. Similarly, being viciously and repeatedly kicked in the stomach causes nothing more than mild discomfort, whilst falling down not one but two flights of stairs is likely to cause little more than a bump on the head and some slight grazing. And indeed, the severing of a limb is actually not that serious an issue in the grand scheme of things. Is the film trying to subtly suggest that violence isn’t the answer as it has no effect? Isle of Dogs is surprisingly good. It’s also unsurprisingly awful at times. There are things that are obvious or clumsily signalled, there’s the bloke in invisible man fancy dress, and then there’s the strange business with the sacrificial cleaning lady who seems to be in the house for about 10 hours before getting killed (maybe the gangster is very picky about hygiene?). On the other hand there’s much that works (even though that does include most of the beating up women bits): there are a few decent surprises (alongside the rubbish ones). It’s well acted for the most part. Andrew Howard is all snarling, snivelling, dribbling, spitting fury, though Edward Hogg (THE COMEDIAN) lets the side down a bit as the bland lover who finds himself in a bit of a pickle. He just looks a bit like a pretty boy waiting for a better job to come along. Barbara Nedeljakova is much more successful at combining vulnerability and inscrutability. Isle of Dogs is far from perfect. At times it’s silly and improbable. But it works according to its own rules, is generally well played and just about maintains a sense of menace. When the punching, shooting and amputating starts it goes off the boil, but it’s an interesting if flawed exercise in genre-shifting.
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Barbara Nedeljakova: Strippers Vs. Werewolves, The Hike, Children of the Corn 10, Pimp, Hostel 2, Hostel
- Edward Hogg: Kill Your Friends, The Program, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (TV), Indian Summers (TV), Jupiter Ascending, The Comedian, Anonymous, White Lightnin’, Bunny and The Bull, Brothers Of The Head, The Mighty Boosh (TV)
- Andrew Howard: Taken 3, Hangover 2, Limitless, Cassandra’s Dream, Love Me Still, Revolver, Below, Mr In-Between, Rancid Aluminium
- Del Synnott: Heidi (2005), Lock – Stock (TV), Virtual Sexuality
- Gwilym Lee: Midsomer Murders (TV), Land Girls (TV)
- Stuart McQuarrie: Blood (2013), Hush