Dangerous Game ★★★½

Search for reality
As blurred as video.
An honest life
Hidden behind sunglasses.
The Passion of Madonna.

There are plenty of people out there that worship the ground Abel Ferrara walks on like he’s the contemporary moment’s answer to John Ford (Kent Jones: “Ferrara may be the most patient director in American movies today, possessed of a deeply contemplative sensibility under a patina of hardcore low-life”). This was my first film of his, which host Nick Pinkerton described as his “transitional” film between his phase as a genre filmmaker in the post-Scorsese age to something of his own idiosyncratic interests. Idiosyncratic is certainly key here – who casts Madonna in a movie, beats her to hell in a movie within a movie that’s halfway between Cinemax-style pornography and Dreyer’s Joan of Arc while shooting half the film on mediocre cameras? (Which looked extra terrible on 35mm in a good way).

Ferrara’s insistence on freewheeling long takes have a Cassavetes-like fluidity to them but I feel like unlike Cassavetes, Ferrara is actually trying to find improvisatory moments, made self-reflexive as Keitel screams at Madonna (who is flat out fantastic, I should say) various things to get her to capture the truth of an emotion. The compositions can be striking, and the grotesqueness of Los Angeles is made into some sort of glorious haze-filed junkyard. Ferrara becomes both creator and spectator, casting Keitel as his avatar but often using the camera looking back at himself, his own wife as the character’s wife, which is only revealing in realizing how kind of fucked up their real life relationship must have been. There’s a balls out admiration for this self-reflexive critical inquiry: more deprecating than Fellini and more truthful than Altman; a trumpet’s punchy jazz solo to Truffaut’s symphony in Day for Night. But let’s not lie, because a lot of this movie requires a lot of junk too: James Russo (who is good at bad acting but never shows himself to be a good actor) screaming at the air about God and capitalism, Keitel’s interviews about the “truth of cinema” delivered without a single bit of irony, and all that Catholic guilt and repression – something I can usually roll with – is almost a parody of itself here. Then again, Ferrara himself needs to reach parody and hyperbolic heights to get to anything resembling his Truth. Go with God then. I’ll leave Ignatiy with the final word: “In the beginning, Ferrara thought that he could prove that exploitation could be "art," or at least arty (Ms. 45), but then he realized that art itself was exploitation (Dangerous Game).”