Movie Review: Mad Dog and Glory

MadDogby Brad Nelson   4/23/14
With a 6.2 rating at IMDB.com, this is further evidence of the irrelevance of that rating system and of popular tastes in general. Thankfully, I don’t have popular taste. I have good taste…at least in movies.

What may have hurt this movie is the dumb name. It sounds like the kind of too-cute romantic comedy they schlep out by the dozen these days: Mad Dog and Glory. You can just taste the treacle and the need for a shot of insulin before viewing this. And, no, Meg Ryan doesn’t star. But that’s the kind of caste and movie that the name elicits.

But this is actually a dark comedy — and one with a heart and soul, which is a somewhat unusual genre. It’s everything that Quentin Tarantino would do if his talent were as large as his reputation (and larger than his taste for nihilism as well).

The one problem with this movie — and this might explain its relatively low rating — is that it is intelligent and without pretension. This movie was so delightful that I was surprised that I had never heard of it before.

Robert De Niro (who isn’t talking Italian in this one either) plays a rather mild-mannered city cop who is a crime scene photographer. He’s a lonely man but a good man. And De Niro expertly nuances this persona, refusing to go over-the-top into any of his typical shtick. This is fine acting (also “fine” in the sense of nuanced rather than bloviated) and I don’t remember seeing De Niro in a role anything quite like this.

Bill Murray plays a mob-connected loan shark whom De Niro saves at a convenience store robbery that De Niro happens upon by accident. Murray, in gratitude, tries to befriend him. But it’s a precarious friendship because, for Murray, every friendship seems to have a price, or at least is parsed in terms of usefulness. And how friendly can De Niro, a cop, ever be with a criminal?

But the hooks of this problematic friendship get implanted when, as a gesture of thanks for saving his life, Murray sends the lovely Uma Thurman to De Niro to have for a couple of weeks. Ostensibly she is sent to mend his burned hand, but it’s clear what kind of favor that Murray is intending to send.

Things get complicated from there. Helping to smooth through the complications is De Niro’s tough-guy partner on the force, David Caruso. He’s De Niro’s muscle when he needs it, the counterpart to Murray’s muscle, Mark Starr, who you might remember as the guy who ate the fatal chili burger in Dumb and Dumber.

This movie builds subtly from the start. None of the characters bang onto the screen like fingernails on a blackboard. We first get to see De Niro in his normal, somewhat humdrum, life as a crime scene photographer dulling his way through life. And Murray is good as his opposite — an outgoing “the stuff illicit dreams are made of” comic/gangster/hustler (he also owns a comedy club) who exudes a dangerous and quiet charm. Surely one of the problems with this movie is that it dares to sometimes whisper instead of shout.

There are some nice dark-comedy moments, especially when you first get a look at De Niro’s apartment. He has selected crime scene photos nicely framed and plastered all over his walls. You also get some back-story on him. He’s a sensitive soul who wanted to be an artist but wanted more to have a steady income and to make something of himself.

One reason it is a joy to screen movies is that once in a while you run into an unknown gem — at least this movie was unknown to me. And Mad Dog and Glory fits that definition indeed.

The De Niro marathon continues. • (1024 views)

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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