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

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

Goon: Last of the Enforcers Movie Review

The 2012 Canadian comedy Goon was one of those surprising little films that snuck up...

Detroit Movie Review

Detroit Movie Review

After The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal reteam to...

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Logan Lucky Movie Review

Good news: Steven Soderbergh's well-publicised retirement from directing only lasted about four years. He's back...

American Made Movie Review

American Made Movie Review

An enjoyably freewheeling tone and Tom Cruise's star wattage combine to make this an entertaining...

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

It's been a decade since Al Gore's wake-up-call documentary won the Oscar. And here he...

Advertisement
The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

It really doesn't matter that this movie is utterly ridiculous, because the central pairing of...

Final Portrait Movie Review

Final Portrait Movie Review

A relaxed, amusing true story about noted Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, this sharply...

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

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.