James Ellroy: American Dog

"Weak"

James Ellroy: American Dog Review


Stalking around 21st century Los Angeles for the documentary American Dog in his driver's cap and Hawaiian shirt, crime novelist and professional obsessive James Ellroy looks at first like some retiree trying to find the closest Denny's. But then there's that look behind those glasses and above the slightly Hitlerian mustache, eyes that don't blink quite often enough, can't seem to look away. Even if they wanted. Then there's his voice, that flat and monotonous drone, spooling out the fixations and a constant cinematic loop of psychosexual pathology. His stories are almost all variations on the same themes of secrecy, desire, repression, ultra-violence, and dangerous obsessions; mostly delivered right at the camera with a con man's brio. He's telling way more truth than he should and lying through his teeth, all in the same sentence. What quickly becomes clear is that Ellroy is an extraordinarily disturbed man, which is part of what makes his fiction so unhealthily enthralling and what makes him so hard to stomach as a documentary subject.

By letting Ellroy essentially take over their film, directors Clara and Robert Kuperberg abandoned themselves to his obsessive compulsive personality and so lost the necessary authorial perspective needed to make this into anything more than a glorified Ellroy vanity project. The structure is haphazard in the extreme, covering most of the same ground and themes that he has in his writing, particularly My Dark Places. In that memoir, Ellroy told of how he went back to his hometown of LA after years of living away in order to try and solve his mother's murder. The event that (as he would have it) formed his life happened in 1958, when he was only 10 years old. In his percolating and already crime-obsessed mind, the death became inextricably intertwined with the unsolved Black Dahlia murder, lodging a troubling Oedipal complex in his psyche at a young age. As Ellroy has it in the film, he not long after turned into something of a creep, prowling his neighborhood and peeping in windows, before turning to petty crime and drugs. Eventually the obsession paid off in a series of increasingly popular and convoluted LA noir novels like L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia (in which his fictional characters solve the crime) that redefined the genre.

What is utterly enthralling on the printed page, though, is far from engaging in this surprisingly dull film, which sets up a potentially interesting meeting between Ellroy and Bruce Wagner, an LA novelist with an apposite approach but similarly obsessed manner, and goes nowhere with it. Compatriots of Ellroy's (LAPD chief William Bratton, retired homicide detective Bill Stoner, who helped Ellroy on his mother's case) occasionally pop in to talk about him, his writing, and the obsessions that fuel both. Then it's back to the author and his compulsively overwrought narration, constantly revisiting the same themes (voyeurism, sex, obsession, corruption) and driving them into the ground.

American Dog ends with Ellroy reading from the last lines of his novels, all suffused with a similar tough-guy tragic effect. While it's an appropriate conclusion, all this really does is highlight the inadequacies of the preceding film in appreciating the work of this gifted, odd man.



Facts and Figures

In Theaters: Thursday 26th July 2007

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

IMDB: 6.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Clara Kuperberg, Robert Kuperberg

Producer: Clara Kuperberg, Robert Kuperberg

Starring: James Ellroy as Himself

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

An unusually realistic teen movie, this drama gets deep under the skin of its characters,...

Bleed for This Movie Review

Bleed for This Movie Review

This is such a ripping true story that it can't help but grab hold of...

Moana Movie Review

Moana Movie Review

In a clear echo of Frozen, this Disney animated adventure centres on a fiercely independent...

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

The 2003 comedy Bad Santa is a holiday classic that skilfully mixes gross-out humour with...

Allied Movie Review

Allied Movie Review

There's a terrific script at the heart of this World War II thriller, with a...

A United Kingdom Movie Review

A United Kingdom Movie Review

Based on a powerful true story from the late 1940s, this drama is packed with...

Indignation Movie Review

Indignation Movie Review

Philip Roth's layered novels are a challenge for filmmakers (see also 2003's The Human Stain...

Advertisement
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

It's been five years since the last Harry Potter movie, and J.K. Rowling has been...

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Yet another bonkers thriller starring Nicolas Cage, this trashy crime comedy comes from director Paul...

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

"Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall" is a DVD...

Arrival Movie Review

Arrival Movie Review

This sci-fi drama has an enjoyably brain-bending plot that leaves the audience almost stunned with...

Elle Movie Review

Elle Movie Review

There's a boldly comical tone to this outrageous thriller that can't help but unnerve audiences...

100 Streets Movie Review

100 Streets Movie Review

A multi-strand drama set in London, this film is very nicely shot and acted, but...

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

It's been seven years since designer Tom Ford made a splash with his award-winning writing-directing...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.