Mad Dog and Glory

(John McNaughton, USA, 1993)


Mad Dog and Glory is an outstanding film. Director John McNaughton has clearly delivered on the promise shown by Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990), but the artistic centre of this project is writer and executive producer Richard Price (Sea of Love, 1989). Closely associated in recent years with Martin Scorsese, Price has invented a story which serves as a wise, downbeat commentary on the violent characters and themes of Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990).

Robert De Niro has rarely shown such judicious acting restraint as he does here, with extremely moving results. He plays Wayne, a timid cop who dreams of being a 'mad dog' hero. Accidentally crossing paths with, and saving the life of, suave criminal Frank (Bill Murray, equally superb), Wayne ends up with the gift for a week of Glory (Uma Thurman). But when Wayne falls in love, Frank pulls rank and wants his "property" back.

Virtually every aspect of the triangular relationship between Wayne, Frank and Glory is deliciously unspoken and ambiguous, thanks to the art and craft of Price and McNaughton. The film is about people who, in different ways, dream feverishly of who they want to be, and as a result live uneasily inside the skin of their daily personalities and social roles. The threads of friendship and love, domination and deceit, become unreadable even to the characters themselves.

Mad Dog and Glory is the kind of movie one sees all too rarely in mainstream American cinema – one that is not beholden at every step to the rigid conventions of genre, which follows through on its own odd, suggestive logic. Only at the end – when the filmmakers seem at a loss as to how to resolve the mystery surrounding Glory's motivations – does the escape hatch of movie cliché open for a moment. But this is, for the most part, an exceptionally original, touching and captivating film – with one of the most painfully authentic sex scenes in American cinema.

MORE McNaughton: Girls in Prison, Speaking of Sex, Wild Things

© Adrian Martin February 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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