Monday, January 9, 2017

Dangerous Game (1993)

AKA Snake Eyes

1993 was a strange year for Abel Ferrara with the maverick New Yorker helming two very worthwhile films that were unceremoniously thrown under the bus upon their respective releases. Coming off of the grimy and fiercely independent Bad Lieutenant (1992), Ferrara did something interesting and unexpected by taking on the most ambitious project of his career, Body Snatchers (1993), the third adaptation of Jack Finney’s book. Body Snatchers was a huge undertaking with the largest budget Ferrara ever had and according to Ferrara, the shoot was a nightmare plagued by studio interference and the technical challenges inherent in such large scale productions. Nevertheless, Ferrara soldiered on and delivered a fantastic sci-fi/horror film. Unfortunately the film would get buried by its own studio. After years of hype in various genre magazines and millions of dollars spent, the film essentially went direct to video after only being released in a handful of theaters. With Dangerous Game, his second film that year, Ferrara went in the complete opposite direction. Despite starring one of the biggest pop stars in the world in Madonna, Dangerous Game is one of Ferrara’s most uncommercial films, a deeply personal look into the world of filmmaking that seemed to bewilder a good number of critics upon its initial release. The Ferrara faithful however know better and over the years have rightfully championed Dangerous Game for what it truly is, a misunderstood masterpiece.

New York based director Eddie Israel (Harvey Keitel) arrives in Hollywood to begin production on his latest film entitled “Mother of Mirrors” which centers around the dissolution of a marriage between a hard partying husband and a remorseful wife who recently found religion and changed her ways. Almost immediately, the films leads Sarah Jennings (Madonna) and Frank Burns (James Russo) begin an affair and it isn’t long until Sarah finds her way into Eddie’s bed as well. The shoot quickly turns sour however with Jennings and Burns unable to get along and Eddie constantly pushing both to their emotional limits for the best performances. The more tensions on the set increase along with Eddie’s own personal transgressions gradually eating away at his conscience, the more the plot of “Mother of Mirrors” begins to mirror reality and vice-versa.

Snake Eyes”, the films alternate title couldn’t have been more apt as Dangerous Game is a venomous film featuring Ferrara’s typically downbeat outlook as well as some of screenwriter Nicholas St. John’s most vicious dialogue. In some ways the film is comparable to another film within a film, Andrzej Zulawski’s La femme publique (1984) as its been suggested that Francis Huster’s character of director Lucas Kessling was meant to be a stand in for Zulawski the same way that Keitel’s Eddie Israel could represent Ferrara himself. Again, “personal” is the adjective that could be used to define the film and at times almost uncomfortably so. There are times when the film feels confessional, particularly when Eddie confesses his infidelities to his wife, played by Nancy Ferrara, Abel’s wife at the time. Ferrara’s approach to the film within a film devise is interesting both from a narrative standpoint as well as stylistically in that its almost always obvious when a scene from “Mother of Mirrors” is being shot, however given the attitudes of the characters towards each other, what’s taking place in the film could easily be going on behind the scenes as well. The same could be said for Keitel’s pressuring of the actors which could also echo Ferrara’s own techniques which, if indeed is the case, they work as the performances are astounding. While Madonna is rightfully praised for her performance, the unsung hero of the film is James Russo who gives an unbelievably raw and fierce performance, downright visceral at times.

Dangerous Game was the first film produced by Madonna’s own Maverick Pictures and ironically it was the leading lady that led the charge against the film. In a 2002 interview with the AV Club, Ferrara remarked “It was just another one of our films that never came out. But on that one, the audience didn't really like the film. Madonna killed it. The first impression people get on a movie is the one that never gets out of their mind. So after Madonna got so trashed for doing Body of Evidence (1993), she thought she was going to beat the critics to the punch and badmouth the film. And she actually got good reviews. She never got a good review from the Voice or The New York Times in her life, but she got good reviews for this movie, which she came out and trashed. I'll never forgive her for it.” Ferrara went on to say “…I never had an actor badmouth a movie. It's just something that isn't done. But she's not a film-business person” and “ It's being paranoid and scared, and that's the reason she can't act, because she hasn't got confidence.” Whatever she or some critic may or may not think of the film at this point doesn’t matter, what does is the fact that Dangerous Game is one of Ferrara’s most confrontational, introspective, cathartic and ultimately brilliant films.

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