Dangerous Game Review

Eddie Israel (Harvey Keitel) is a film director. He is making Mother of Mirrors, with leading actors Sarah Jennings (Madonna) and Frank Burns (James Russo). Sarah's character, Claire, rejects a hedonistic sex-and-drugs lifestyle for religion. Her husband Russell (Frank's character) rejects Claire's conversion as a lie as to him the substance abuse and multiple sexual partners are a truth. As the filming progress, the line between reality and fiction become blurred.

In between work for hire (such as the same year's interesting Body Snatchers), Abel Ferrara made several small-budget independent films, often reusing actors and crewmembers. His work outside the mainstream is characterised by an unflinching look at the dark side of human existence, grappling with themes of sin and redemption and occasionally undone by an undue emphasis on the sin part. The best of his work is perhaps Bad Lieutenant, in which Harvey Keitel gave one of the great performances of the 1990s. Dangerous Game (which was filmed as, and initially shown as, Snake Eyes – no relation to the Brian DePalma film of 1998) is not up to that level, and has had a mixed reception. Depending on who you listen to, it's anywhere from a bomb to a masterpiece. To this reviewer's mind, it's an interesting but ultimately confused film, sometimes powerful but ultimately unclear about what it all adds up to.

The tone of Ferrara's work, not to mention his prolific output, suggests a man struggling with personal demons and aiming at catharsis. This impression is strengthened by Dangerous Game. Although the central character is called Eddie Israel, Ferrara seems to be going out of his way to be identified with him, to the extent of casting his own wife as the character's wife. (At one point you can see a clapperboard with Ferrara's name on it.) However, Keitel's performance is oddly distanced and low-key. The best performance comes from Madonna, impressive work by any standard.

Dangerous Game certainly won't be for everyone. Many people will find the characters repellent and the incessant psychological violence (not to mention virtually non-stop strong language) very hard to take. One of the most disturbing scenes is one where, in the film within the film, Russell rapes Claire – but has Frank raped Sarah for real?

One shortfall of Dangerous Game is Ken Kelsch's drab camerawork, which alternates between 35mm and video for the "documentary" scenes. Unfortunately, Universal UK's DVD does the film few favours. It's a full-frame transfer, but at least it's open-matte rather than pan-and-scan even if the film should be shown at 1.85:1. The colours are dull and the transfer soft, with some noticeable artefacting and a lack of shadow detail. I'd say it wasn't much better than VHS quality if the video I compared it with (a Polygram ex-rental tape) wasn't actually worse. The soundtrack is basic 2.0 Stereo, but for most of the way might as well be in mono, so dialogue-heavy is this film. There are eighteen chapter stops. The only extra is the trailer (running 1:17), which tries to sell the film on Ferrara's controversial reputation. The sound on the trailer is much louder than on the feature, for some reason.

It should be noted that this version of Dangerous Game is a complete one. Several of Ferrara's films have suffered at the hands of the BBFC, but this has never been one of them. About three minutes went in the USA to achieve a R rating, though an uncut, unrated version has been available there. Dangerous Game was banned outright in the Irish Republic. Certainly, Ferrara's admirers will be in the market for this DVD, but it's a shame that it's yet another indifferent-to-poor Universal disc.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 20:26:33

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