Dogs of War

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Blueprint for a Coup d’Etat: The Dogs of War

Nov 18, 2002
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Action Factor:
  • Special Effects:
  • Suspense:

Pros:Story, Direction, Walken, Supporting Cast

Cons:Need more films of this genre!

The Bottom Line: Detailed exposition of how to stage a coup d'etat in three easy lessons. See this!


Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

For those of you who like to travel, let Christopher Walken be your tour guide as you visit foreign countries, see exotic sights, and kill people in this 1981 political thriller The Dogs of War.

Directed by John Irvin (Hamburger Hill), The Dogs of War depicts the inner workings of the military industrial takeover of a third world country by a team of mercenaries headed by Walken.

It started out as just a reconnaissance mission. A commercial client wanted to know if the government in Zangaro (fictional African country) was stable; naturally he went straight to the best operator in the covert business. Shannon (Walken), a soldier of fortune, lives alone in a seedy NY apartment with the TV blaring endlessly to an empty room and pistols available ready to hand throughout the house. He agrees to visit the country and give a detailed report on the political stability for $15,000.

To scout out the territory, Shannon goes in alone as a nature photographer. In order to clear customs in the backward country, he must submit to a humiliating search and give up at least half of his money, cigarettes, and liquor as bribes to the corrupt officials. Later, he gets caught by the secret police on a midnight recon and mercilessly beaten after which he is deported. On his way out of the airport a reporter slips him a film canister…

Shannon files his report and surprise the corporation wants him to go back and perform a coup d’etat. Shannon drives a hard bargain but finally everybody agrees. Before he leaves on his mission he is introduced to the new leader who will be installed once the coup is realized (so they think).

Based on the novel of the same name by Frederick Forsyth, (The Day of the Jackal; The Fourth Protocol) the film gives a very realistic view regarding the logistical problems of recruiting and keeping together a team of operatives, crossing borders, obtaining money and arms, and making sure all of these things end up in the target country at the same time. The arms, for example, are procured from a number of shady dealers in Europe. They are then concealed in oil drums, carried by truck and ship through various countries to their destination and have to clear customs a number of times. It’s quite intriguing to watch the detailed views of the various transactions and interactions that take place.

I first saw The Dogs of War in the theater and the version shown was fifteen minutes shorter than the DVD version put together by MGM, which runs 119 minutes. The original theatrical release emphasized the “blowing stuff up” aspects more than the meticulous planning and execution of the operation so even though I am not generally a fan of the extended length “director’s cut” versions, in this case I think the added length is a bonus.

Director John Irvin does a good job with narrative and maintains interest all along, even though some viewers could find the process of putting together a covert operation tedious. I found it fascinating and would put it in a class with such films as The Day of the Jackal and The Killer Elite for absorbing entertainment.

As cinematographer, he had the best in the business, Jack Cardiff, who counts The Vikings and The Long Ships as two superbly shot sea stories.

Finally, the acting, with baby-faced Walken (Deer Hunter, True Romance) showing just how tough he can be and revealing even back in 1981 the vacant stare that says so much more about horror and menace than most actors can bring out with a soliloquy. Good support provided by Tom Berringer, Colin Blakely, JoBeth Williams, and Winston Ntshona.

For fans who would like to see similar films, I recommend The Killer Elite, The Day of the Jackal, Scorpio, and The Fourth Protocol.

Thanks for reading!




Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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