[box cover]

The Dogs of War

Before Luc Besson's Leon, there was Jamie Shannon, aka Christopher Walken in John Irvin's Dogs of War (1981), an action film/character study that by today's action-cinema standards is an absorbing, multi-layered, well-crafted work. Walken's Shannon is a professional mercenary who — like Jean Reno's "cleaner" Leon — is the best in his field, a seemingly heartless killer used by power-hungry entities as a one-man army. However, there's more to him than bullets and blood. Shannon is an introvert, living alone in a New York City apartment filled with guns, beer, and an underlying sense of emptiness. In a great opening scene, Shannon comes home after being repudiated by a woman. With ritualistic fashion, he walks in the door, drops his keys, grabs his mail, opens the fridge where a gun is stashed, grabs a Budweiser, smashes a roach scuttling up the wall, sits at his desk and shunts the mail into a drawer where another gun is stowed. He sits down and watches a fuzzy TV. It's a potentially boring scene, but one that's shot and edited with such grace and casual cool that it almost matches the perfection of the actor, who appears to be dancing right through it. After some more character-shading, Shannon is hired for a job. A British cabal wants him to look into a political regime in Zangaro, Africa — a country run by a violent dictator that Shannon's employers want to replace with a British corporation as a puppet government (not exactly a conscious-cleansing proposition). Shannon then travels to Zangaro as a bird photographer, but the locals are on to him and, in a remarkably realistic scene, he's imprisoned and beaten to a sickening pulp before he's deported. Thus, back in New York, Shannon assembles a team of pros (including a young Tom Berenger) and masterminds a fresh offensive. Adapted from Frederick Forsythe's detailed novel, The Dogs of War surveys all sorts of weaponry and strategy, which sometimes causes the affair to bog down, but nonetheless it's all effective in building towards the final battle sequence. The film is both gritty and introspective, particularly with Walken in the leading role. Perhaps Walken has never been bad in a movie, no matter which crappy film he shows up in, but it's a shame he hasn't been able to find a film like this one of late. All of his brilliant mannerisms are in evidence — the staggered line-delivery (which prefers ellipsis over periods), the half-detached, half-carnal glare, the mysterious, natural charisma. But Walken also is able to work with the other actors without ever appearing to upstage them — even though, naturally, he is. MGM's The Dogs of War presents a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio, which adequately delivers the varied soundstage. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—Kim Morgan



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