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Dogs of War, The
Directed by John Irvin from the book by Frederick Forsythe, 1980's The Dogs Of War stars Christopher Walken (who had just taken home an Oscar for his work on The Deer Hunter) as a mercenary named James Shannon. Those in charge of a British owned mining company lead by Endean (Hugh Millais) hire him for $15,000.00 to fly to the African country of Zangaro, a country lorded over by a brutal dictator who runs the country with an iron fist.
Shortly after he arrives, he's captured and accused of being a spy. Subsequently he is tortured and quite harshly beaten before being locked away. While imprisoned he meets Doctor Okoye (Winston Ntshona), a progressive thinker that the government has locked away, lest his political leanings lead to social unrest. Eventually Shannon is released and after flying back to London, offered the chance to put together a team of mercenaries to fly back to Zangaro and take out the leaders in order to pull off a coup. As things have gone from bad to worse with his wife Jessie (JoBeth Williams), he takes the offer.
This isn't the most inventive ‘mercs on a mission' movie ever made but it's well put together and if you enjoy similar stories, almost all of which seem to stem from The Dirty Dozen or one of the various films inspired by it, you'll probably get a kick out of this one too. There are times where, like The Deer Hunter, it goes into dark places, particularly when dealing with the relationship that is obviously crumbling between James and Jessie, and the way in which the film mixes its politics with its take on unscrupulous business types is more than a little heavy handed but this is by most anyone's standards an entertaining film.
Walken carries the film. While he's probably not the first person most of us will think of when we conjure up images of action heroes, he's quite good in the role. He has a brooding intensity to him here that makes him a good fit for the part and his back and forth with his team, once assembled, is appropriately tough, grizzled and world weary. JoBeth Williams has got that pretty girl next door vibe about her that makes her work in her supporting part very effective and another supporting performance from Tom Berenger as one of the team members used in the latter half of the film is also pretty solid. There are times where the pacing is a little on the slow side in the first half of the movie but once Shannon has made it out of prison and takes the job and then sets out not only to plan it but to execute it, things take off nicely and the payoff winds up being definitely worth it.
Note: Although it isn't mentioned on the packaging, this Blu-ray release of the film includes the theatrical cut and the extended international cut, the latter running approximately fifteen minutes longer. Main additions to the longer version are almost entirely related to character development and highlights include a scene where Shannon attends a child's baptism, a scene between Shannon and Jessie go to bed together, a short bit where the mercenaries run into trouble at a drawbridge and a fair bit more back and forth between Shannon and Lockhart in regards to what to do with the contents of the boat. These moments help to make Shannon a more believable character and as such, the longer cut of the film does a better job of fleshing out character motivations and such. It is the better version of the film.
The Dogs Of War debuts on Blu-ray from Scorpion Releasing properly framed in its original 1.85.1 widescreen aspect ratio in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taken from a new 2k scan of the interpositive with the extended cut taking up 26GBs of space and the shorter cut 18GBs of space on the shared 50GB disc. The film is occasionally heavy with grain but actual print damage is pretty minimal, just a few minor white specks throughout. Aside from a few shots that look to have been shot a bit softer than others, the transfer features strong detail and realistic color reproduction. Black levels are good, skin tones look natural and never waxy or too hot and there are no issues to note with any noise reduction of compression artifact problems. The movie looks very good here, showing slightly better detail than the previous Blu-ray release.
The only audio option for the feature is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track, optional subtitles are provided in English only. Surprisingly, the mixes for the two different versions of the movie on the disc do differ, with dialogue sounding quite a bit more solid and robust on the international version than the theatrical and sound effects carrying a bit more weight to them as well. Either way, dialogue is clear on both tracks with properly balanced levels. Hiss and distortion are never problematic and things sound clean and clear. The international track does have a bit more presence though.
As far as extra features go, the disc includes interviews with quite a few people affiliated with it. First up is an interview with co-star Paul Freeman. Here, over thirteen minutes, he talks about how getting his start as an actor in kindergarten when he played a spider in a play. From there he goes over some of his early roles, what it was like shooting the film on location in Belize, the size and scope of the production, working with John Irvin, the book the film is based on, his character, dealing with the firearms and pyrotechnics involved in the production and how he got along with many of his co-stars.
Co-star Maggie Scott is interviewed next for nine minutes where she goes over how she got into acting completely by chance, her background as an artist, landing the role in Dogs Of War, how much she enjoyed working with Irvin, how everyone was very supportive of her on set, the importance of the rehearsal period, befriending some of her co-stars, what it was like acting opposite Walken on her first film and her thoughts on the film overall.
Co-writer George Malko is interviewed after that in an eleven minute piece. He discusses how he got started in the business, how writing the screenplay was one of the best experiences of his career, adapting the book into the screenplay, changes that were made to the source material, the setting of the picture, the themes that it explores, how impressed he was with the casting choices and his thoughts on how the film turned out.
A fourth featurette, simply titled Interviews With Crew Members, lasts for twenty-one minutes and features interviews with first assistant director Anthony Waye, production designer Peter Mullins and costume designer Emma Porteous. It covers the locations, staging some of the action set pieces, the specific look of some key scenes, some of the sets that needed to be built for the film, creating the wardrobe for specific characters and more.
The disc also includes menus, chapter selection and two trailers and a TV spot for the feature and for a few other Scorpion Releasing titles (Delta Force, P.O.W. The Escape and Who'll Stop The Rain). It comes packaged with some nice reversible cover sleeve art and a limited edition slipcover.
The Dogs Of War is a rock solid action picture and while it might not be the most original ‘mercs on a mission' movie ever made, it delivers plenty of tension and excitement. The film also benefits from a really strong cast, with all involved principals delivering some pretty intense performances. Scorpion Releasing's Blu-ray release offers up both cuts of the movie with very good quality and throws in some nice extra features as well. This is pretty entertaining stuff and nicely presented on this disc.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.