As a follow-up to Bad Lieutenant, which could be a possibility fordirector Abel Ferrara's best work to date (or at least most thoughtprovoking), Dangerous Game aims for lower targets while trying for asimilar approach to the dregs of a character's soul. Once again HarveyKeitel is the doomed figure, a man with such a self-destructive impulsethat it'll lead him to nowhere decent. But this time he's not a cop oncompletely the edge of society and self, but a movie director who ismaking a film with such high-intensity, raw emotional drama that itwould make John Cassavetes wince. The main actors in Eddie's movie(Keitel) are Sara (Madonna) and Francis (James Russo) become victim tothat old tune of art imitating life, or vice versa (as the chicken camefrom the egg and back again sort of thing) that starts to make the filmwithin Dangerous Game a very volatile situation. All the while Eddie'sdemands on his actors involve spiritual death via drugs and alcohol andmutual decay towards one another, an abusive relationship where thesexual games have gone sour and all that's left is remorse and contemptdepending on the beat. Soon this seeps out for real, as Francis can'tdistinguish from acting or reality, and a rape scene within the moviebecomes all too real on the set. And, of course, this leads further forEddie's own path of horror.
Unlike Ferrara's previous film, this time Keitel's character doesn'thave that possibility for redemption- in Hollywood, in search of themost brutally honest picture, Eddie Israel won't stop until hepractically gets what he's got bottled up inside right onto screen, nomatter what it does to his actors whom he professes to enjoy and befriendly with (and with Sara more-so). He indulges in drink and moreimportantly women via the movie business, while still keeping upappearances with his wife (Nancy Ferrara) and little boy. So with thislack of Eddie meeting towards any kind of possible sign of hope- andkeep in mind the Herzog clip from Burden of Dreams- it's almost despairfor despair's sake. And watching the scenes being filmed by theactors(The Mother of the Mirrors), though not totally awful, I'mreminded of the old Gene Siskel line about the actors eating lunchbeing more interesting than the movie itself. Still with these flawsnoticed, not to mention a very strange ending that leaves off thecharacter's in some kind of demise either real or filmic (maybe it'sthe point), it's still a good film, or rather a film that defies itsown experimental boundaries to be always fascinating, if only to a filmbuff like myself.
I liked individual scenes very much, like one where Keitel's characterdirects Madonna's Sara into delivering lines to the camera believablyby insulting her as a 'commercial whore', to which she finally giveshim what he wants (it's something that is sometimes mentioned amongdirectors or other actors trying to get believable turns by the otheractor), or in seeing the a very understated scene where Keitel andMadonna do a slow dance out by a pool and he sings a soft tune. I alsoloved the scene involving Keitel and Ferrara (how she's related to thedirector I don't know) when he reveals to her his major transgressionsas she has returned home for her father's funeral (just casting her,too, is wise in showing someone very believable as a person inHollywood's good & normal side). What helps too is the willingness ofthe principle actors to just give it their all, as if they'd kill toget what they're doing right for the director, murky script and all.Truth be told, I found this to be a real high point for Madonna as anactress, not playing some easier part to play like in DesperatelySeeking Susan or League of Their Own, but having to actually tap intoher more decadent side that she loved (at the time) to make as a partof her media image. Russo, too, is good here, if maybe almostdangerously one-note as a man so intense and "method" that he threatensthe whole production.
Finally, there's Keitel, who never ceases to amaze me with what he cando even in moments when the material gives him little to do but to lookoff in a scene with a stare or expression of inner-hell. Actually,that's one of the things he's probably perfected since the 1970s. Hehas moments where he bends his demanding exterior, and there'stenderness to be found within the self-destructiveness in Eddie. Theonly problem then lies with Keitel lacking a means to really channelthis into something leading somewhere- by the end his character doesn'tknow what he'll do with the film, or how to finish it, and this sort ofabrupt ending leaves the actors as well as the film in the cold. But asa film about film-making, I've seen worse, and I might even like itmore if I catch it late one night on cable (definitely *that* kind ofmovie).