The Dogs of War Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Twilight Time
Directed by John Irvin
Written by Gary DeVore and George Maiko
1980, Region A, 119 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on September 9th, 2014
Limited to 3,000 copies
Christopher Walken as Jamie Shannon
Tom Berenger as Drew
Paul Freeman as Derek
Ed O’Neil as Terry
Colin Blakely as North
Hugh Millais as Endean
JoBeth Williams as Jessie
Ilario Bisi Pedro as Gen. Kimba
Maggie Scott as Gabrielle
For years, Jamie Shannon has led a group of mercenaries around the world on numerous incursions through an assortment of unstable countries. His teammates Derek, Drew and Terry are highly skilled professionals who live an incredibly dangerous lifestyle. These men are at their best when on assignment, but it is the time between missions that really tests their fortitude. Having recently returned from battle, Jamie tries to resume traditional daily activities, but finds only limited success. When a mysterious man named Endean contacts him to investigate a supposed African dictator named General Kimba, Jamie jumps at the opportunity to get back into action, but is disappointed to learn this is simply a non-combative recon assignment.
Posing as an ornithologist, our hero arrives just as the situation on the ground is growing tumultuous. He befriends a British documentary filmmaker named North, who is covering the scene, but immediately arouses suspicion from the local government. Jamie is detained by officials and given a thorough beating before being forced to leave the country. Having essentially failed his mission, Jamie is once again returned to the tedium of “normal life” and things are immediately awkward. He tries reaching out to others, including his estranged wife Jessie, but nothing really works for him as he is unable to shake the desire for vengeance. When Endean returns to offer a follow up mission, Jamie reaches out to his trusted teammates to put together a small army to attack those that bested him. He not only seeks revenge, but a return to the calm that only the battlefield brings.
On the surface, The Dogs of War is a gritty war story that moves from one action set piece to the next, but the screenplay by Gary DeVore (Raw Deal) and George Maiko (Sweet Lorraine) is actually more nuanced and carries a deeper message than expected. Based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth, the tale is a character piece that addresses the adage that “you can take the soldier out of the war, but you can’t take the war out of the soldier.” Director John Irvin (Hamburger Hill) starts his picture by dropping viewers into the middle of an evacuation scene without a frame of reference; just chaos as our heroes race to escape a fire fight. Following this jarring intro, we are faced with the unnerving silence of suburbia. James' personal life is one of solitude, where he doesn't chit chat, and close friends don’t just drop by.
As an actor, Christopher Walken (The Dead Zone) gave some of his strongest performances before 1985, and has since moved on to a different phase in his career, one of borderline self-parody. His work here as Jamie Shannon is as respectable as any you would expect from such a talented man and he expertly displays both physical intensity as well as emotional vulnerability in this well rounded character. The quiet moments he displays when attempting to patch things up with Jessie (JoBeth Williams, Poltergeist) suggest a hint of what Jamie was like before he was consumed with work. Jessie’s screen time is limited and so she is moderately ineffective here, but their chemistry is undeniable as she offers a hint of the peace he so desperately craves.
The supporting cast is solid across the board, starting with the trio of mercenaries that Jamie calls family. Tom Berenger (Platoon) and Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark) are full of energy as the charismatic Drew and resourceful Derek respectively, while Ed O’Neil (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane) is a voice of reason as recent father, Terry. When the quartet is working together, they appear truly comfortable in their own skin, which is interesting in that these are the times the men’s lives are most at risk. Colin Blakely (Evil Under the Sun) is instantly likeable as North, the passionate documentarian. Character actor David Schofield (An American Werewolf in London) is menacing as Endean’s silent and unnamed assistant. Eagle-eyed viewers will catch an early appearance from Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge) as a member of the documentary film crew.
The Dogs of War is an uneven film that was further hindered by last minute cuts before its domestic release that removed various character beats in favor of getting to the action. Jamie Shannon and his friends are not the easiest characters to understand, but their camaraderie is unquestionable and even without the background information, these guys are interesting to watch. Pacing issues aside, fans of early Christopher Walken credits will definitely want to check out this terrific performance.
Video and Audio:
Anyone familiar with the recent slate of Twilight Time releases should have an idea of what to expect here as The Dogs of War receives a strong transfer that fans will find pleasing. The picture is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is filled with detail and clarity that has eluded earlier versions.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is a surprisingly strong one, featuring impressive range during the action scenes while maintaining clear audio levels for the frequent dialogue driven moments.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Both the theatrical cut (104 minutes) and extended international version (119 minutes) are included on this disc. The longer print adds more breathing room to the film with some extended sequences for Walken.
The film's musical score is presented in an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track and sounds wonderful.
The original theatrical trailer is joined with a promo for MGM’s 90th anniversary.