The Dogs of War (1980)

The Dogs of War, John Irvin. Scenes and images from this film have stuck in my mind since I watched it on late night cable decades ago. A mercenary picture with lots of grit and soul, intelligently plotted (from a Frederick Forsyth novel) and shot on location in New York, London, Paris, Africa, and Central America, the cinematography and editing are of the William Friedkin/John Frankenheimer school of film making. The choice of Christopher Walken as lead at first seems odd, with his slim frame and dancer’s elegance, but eventually his bug-eyed schizoid expression and barking nu-yawk accent convince. Unfortunately the final fifteen minutes follow what had already become formula by 1980: the shoot’em up commando raid climax now plays like a made-for-TV movie, though truth be told it still holds up better than most muscle-action films of the era (Commando [1985] more or less stole the plot of DoW, turned it into a vehicle for Schwarzenegger, and is one of the worst offenders). The final scene of DoW is supposed to make us feel less guilty about the carnage-for-entertainment factor, but I’m not buying it: the murderous mercenary may have a proven he has a heart, but getting politically pro-active in the final five minutes? Fugget about it! That said, I still recommend this picture as a cut above most of the action dreck coming out at the time and head and shoulders above most of the action dreck they’re still producing.

 

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