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Dogs of War (Limited Edition Series), The
Perhaps Sylvester Stallone should recruit Christopher Walken if he makes another Expendables film. Fresh off an Academy Award win for The Deer Hunter, Walken played a mercenary for John Irvin in The Dogs of War. This meat-and-potatoes thriller sees Walken battling a ruthless African dictator and shady international business tycoons while his personal life crumbles. The first act is slow going, but things pick up considerably once Walken returns to the fictional Republic of Zangaro with a group of trained killers to stage a coup. The film is worth watching, especially for fans of Walken and Irvin, but it never quite comes together. The pacing is problematic; the home-front melodrama feels out of place; and the final showdown does not warrant the lengthy build-up.
Based on a novel by Frederick Forsyth, The Dogs of War saw much of its character development cut for its U.S. theatrical release. Twilight Time's Blu-ray features the 104-minute theatrical cut and the 119-minute international cut, which restores much of this cut footage. There are a number of added scenes that flesh out Jamie Shannon's (Walken) relationship with estranged wife Jessie (JoBeth Williams); as well as extensions to scenes setting up the international conflict and the subsequent firefight. Shannon first goes to Zangaro when British businessman Endean (Hugh Millais) offers him $15,000 to investigate the country and its brutal dictator, Kimba (Ilario Bisi-Pedro). He is captured, tortured and jailed, and meets Dr. Okoye (Winston Ntshona), a former moderate political leader and doctor who was jailed by Kimba. Shannon is eventually deported back home, where Endean offers him $100,000 to assemble a team to return to Zangaro and overthrow the government.
Pacing is a consistent issue for The Dogs of War. After a tense opening in which Shannon and fellow mercenaries Drew (Tom Berenger), Derek (Paul Freeman), Michael (Jean-Francois Stevnin), Terry (Ed O'Neill) and Richard (Harlan Cary Poe) escape a violent banana republic, the film quickly slows as Shannon tries to rekindle his relationship with Jessie. These scenes are nicely acted and interesting on their face, but they feel like they got ripped from another movie. The international cut makes better sense story-wise, but it takes even longer to get back to the action. His crumbling relationship is an important motivator for Shannon to return to a war zone, however, and his desperation makes Endean's offers all the more attractive. Endean is interested in Zangaro's natural resources, and tells Shannon to pose as a photographer for a nature magazine. His work does not go unnoticed, which causes the aforementioned capture and torture.
The film's main thrust does not begin into well into its second hour: A badly beaten and emotionally scarred Shannon accepts Endean's second offer to return to Zangaro with the help of his missionary team. Everything that came before provides motivation for the ultimate coup, but this stop-start pacing makes The Dogs of War feel like several, tangentially related vignettes. Walken is a fine actor and brings his usual intensity here. The film never overplays its mercenary machismo, and there is very little humor to be found. Irvin's direction is solid, but there are better films on his resume. The Dogs of War tackles queasy international politics and the greedy undercurrents of war, but the end product does not quite live up to the film's perceived aspirations.
The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer (on loan from MGM) is solid but not one of Twilight Time's best. There is plenty of print damage, dirt and debris, and the film has a number of soft, smeary shots. There is plenty of grain and natural texture, and colors appear accurate and are nicely saturated. Detail is generally good, and black crush is kept to a minimum.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is serviceable, with nice element separation. There are some minor differences between the theatrical and international mixes, and I give the international mix the edge in terms of depth and clarity. Dialogue is reproduced nicely, and is mixed appropriately with effects and score. The dynamic range is quite good for a stereo mix. English SDH subtitles are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Twilight Time releases The Dogs of War as part of its "Limited Edition Series," and only 3,000 units were produced. The disc arrives in a standard Blu-ray case, and a six-page booklet with an essay and pictures slides inside the case. The Blu-ray includes the theatrical cut (1:44:00) and the international cut (1:58:46). You also get an Isolated Score Track for Geoffrey Burgon's music in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio; the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:37/SD); and an MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06/HD).
John Irvin's The Dogs of War is an unflashy, old school mercenary picture. Christopher Walken is solid as the man leading the coup of an African dictator. Pacing and narrative hiccups pop up throughout, and the final product feels less successful than its parts. Still, Twilight Time's Blu-ray is Recommended for fans.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.