The disenchantment with the Vietnam War is palpable in Karel Reisz's Who'll Stop the Rain, which is based on the novel "Dog Soldiers" by Robert Stone. Starring a dynamic Nick Nolte and Tuesday Weld, Dog Soldiers sees the pair go on the run after getting mixed up in drug trafficking. Offering the glorious, rebellious excess of the 1970s and plenty of soundtrack cuts from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Who'll Stop the Rain is a tough, gritty thriller. It is also an unconventional road movie with two unlikely companions. The film is not always pleasant, but it digs in deep and never lets go.
War correspondent John Converse (Michael Moriarty) decides to make some money in Saigon, and enlists merchant marine Ray Hicks (Nolte) to help him smuggle heroin back to the United States. He does so, but becomes entangled with Converse's opioid-addicted wife, Marge (Weld). The pair goes on the run to stay ahead of a corrupt DEA agent, Antheil (Anthony Zerbe), who has Converse kidnapped upon his return to the U.S. Marge soon begins withdrawals from Dilaudid, and Hicks introduces her to heroin. Their time on the road is brutal, surreal and darkly humorous, and Who'll Stop the Rain also offers thriller elements as the pair fights to avoid capture or death.
Stone's novel explores what happens when ordinary folks become corrupted by war, and features frank, often unlikeable characters. This adaptation, re-titled of course, is not on the level of Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter, but is an interesting exploration of the conflict's effects on the American public. Nolte plays the lead role in a way only he can, and gets away with some truly awkward, machismo dialogue. He puts Marge in her place, letting her know that she can shut up or get killed. Converse is in way over his head, and quickly realizes he has put his wife in mortal danger. Hicks is unhinged, but Antheil is willing to kill to score the heroin.
Filled with memorable, bizarre scenes, Who'll Stop the Rain sees Hicks inject several acquaintances with heroin to escape capture. Marge begins craving a different high, and becomes a giddy companion instead of reluctant captive. The book-to-film trims are evident in the Hicks character, who is basically a wild mercenary, and much of the novel's context is stripped away. That is not necessarily a criticism, as the film is a stark, tough thriller with plenty of excitement to offset the lack of depth. The pure pessimism of it all is surprisingly refreshing. One of my favorite scenes offers a shot of Nolte in a scummy strip bar. He rails on the owner for the place and its girls going to shit. The man replies that he had to change with the times. Hicks counters that "the times are fucked." Indeed.
The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is a bit worn but certainly acceptable. The film begins with a number of soft, smeary shots, but that clears up distinctly as the movie moves forward. Contrast, texture and skin tones are good, and fine-object detail is often impressive. There is some moderate print damage in spots, but the image is refreshingly free of digital tinkering. Black levels are good, though some minor crush pops up amid heavier grain.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is good, with decent depth and element layering. Dialogue is clear and without distortion, and the soundtrack and score are moderately weighty. English SDH subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Released by Twilight Time as part of its "Limited Edition Series," only 3,000 units were produced. The disc is packed in a clear case that includes a multi-page booklet with stills, poster art and an essay. Extras include an Isolated Score Track in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, an Interview with John Bloom (16:20/HD), the film's editor; and the Theatrical Trailer (2:10/HD).
Nick Nolte and Tuesday Weld are excellent in this adaptation of Robert Stone's novel "Dog Soldiers." The pair takes to the open road to stay ahead of a corrupt DEA agent after they become involved in war-assisted drug trafficking. The film lacks the novel's social context but amps up the thriller elements. Highly Recommended.