Film Review: Mad Dog and Glory

maddoggloryMad Dog and Glory – Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Bill Murray
A meek detective (De Niro) saves the life of a mob boss (Murray), causing the mob boss to offer a gift (Thurman) in return. At first the detective, Mad Dog, wants nothing to do with the woman, Glory. Over time, they fall in love, which becomes a problem when the mob boss wants her back.

When Mad Dog and Glory first showed up on my radar, I disdainfully ignored it. Like many others, I figured that it was a farce. Casting both Robert De Niro and Bill Murray against type in a gangster film produced by Martin Scorsese made as much sense as casting a young Uma Thurman as the third in their love triangle. It couldn’t work, so there was no reason to watch.

The film became forgotten – a line on an IMDB page you skip over with an “eh, heard about it, probably wouldn’t like it” and a shrug. It wasn’t until two decades later, when the film showed up on Flix On Demand, that I finally sat down to watch it.

What I found didn’t resemble a a mob farce at all. Mad Dog and Glory is a well-acted, dramatic and funny look at a slice of mob life. Casting the two leads against type may have seemed strange when the film was made, but after seeing what trajectory the two stars took in their respective careers, it no longer sounds absurd.

De Niro really is one of the greatest actors ever. He completely sells the meek but firm police detective that falls in love with the beautiful, younger woman he’s handed. Watching him back down to a man beating a woman is pitiful, but we’re still able to root for him to fall in love. When he discovers how dangerous the people he’s dealing with really are, he doesn’t compromise himself. He’s a coward, but he’s an honorable coward.

The mob boss played by Murray is further proof that Murray is much more than a comic actor of the eighties. He’s at the top of his game here, witty enough for the comedian’s natural charm to come through and make us fall in like with the man before we’re shown how contemptible he really is. When he finally turns on our hero, we’re almost not sure who to root for.

The confusion comes from Uma Thurman’s Glory, a woman handed over to Mad Dog for a week because of a debt her brother incurred. She plays the part of the victim beautifully, but it’s obvious to everyone except Mad Dog that her motives are more self-preservation than self-fulfillment.

David Caruso and Mike Starr round out the main cast, with solid performances from both. John McNaughton provided beautiful direction, resulting in a film worth watching, provided you like dark comedies about the mob.

The biggest problem comes during the final act. The film ends weaker than it should. A little research shows that the studio intervened and made some changes. Those changes made the movie worse, much like the changes the studio made to one of De Niro’s earlier projects, Brazil. Except this time, the director wouldn’t fight so hard to save it and we would only end up with one cut of the film.

Overall, Mad Dog and Glory is an exceptional film that falls just short of being great – it’s a dark comedy that needed to be just a little darker. The script and performances were fantastic, but because of some fiddling to make the story more palatable to the public, it doesn’t live up to its full potential.

Mad Dog and Glory – Robert De Niro, Uma Thurman, Bill Murray
Score: B+

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