Home Entertainment Review: The Dogs of War

The Dogs of War (John Irvin, 1980) – The start of the 1980’s was such a unique time for movie making and storytelling. You could combine some unique social and political messages inside the frame work of a pretty ballsy and violent action movie.  On Blu-Ray for the first time from Twilight Time, The Dogs of War is lean and mean political thriller that doesn’t shy away from some of the tough geopolitical questions of the day.

An adaptation of a novel by Frederick Forsyth, The Dogs of War is the tale of a mercenary led coup by a group of for-profit soldiers led by the enigmatic Jamie Shannon (Christopher Walken) as they set off to reclaim a small African country from its corrupt and blood thirsty regime.

As a follow-up to his iconic TV miniseries Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, director John Irvin takes The Dogs of War and gives it a real humanistic edge that still works even today, almost 35 years later. With legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff in tow, Irvin had the ability to tell a story of war and give it some scope without cutting back on the human interest.  Shooting in Belize as a stand in for a fictious African nation, Irvin and Cardiff give this movie a  massive feel, even though in many ways it’s just a dirty little action movie. It always makes a point of aspiring to be a little more than the Stallone and Schwarzenegger epics that would follow it later in the decade.

The Dogs of War

Although outside of Walken in the leading role, the character development gets a little thin in the supporting players, but as in many wartime action films, it ultimately doesn’t matter.  In his first outing as a leading man Walken plays a tortured soul embracing what he’s good at despite the physical and emotional toll that it takes on him.  Walken carries that balance with astounding aplomb.  The balance of the ensemble is solid as a young Tom Berenger, Colin Blakely and JoBeth Williams all round out the affair.

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It has moments that play like a B-Grade action movie, but it’s a really  good one. It’s legitimately underrated and more than worth a look.

Picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are actually pretty solid, despite a couple of moments where you could tell that the original elements were pretty degraded.  The special features include a collectible booklet, an isolated score track, the theatrical and international cuts of the film, and the theatrical trailer. (Dave Voigt)

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