The Dogs of War (1980)

Genres - War  |   Sub-Genres - War Adventure  |   Release Date - Feb 13, 1981 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Michael Costello

John Irvin's adaptation of the Frederick Forsyth novel about a mercenary attempting to execute a coup d'├ętat in a small African country is an absorbing, if occasionally murky, adventure film. Christopher Walken stars as the burned out mercenary whose adrenaline junkie nature leads him to accept the job of toppling the shaky government of the fictional nation of Zangaro. While the story may be fiction, Forsyth has clearly done his homework, and Zangaro proves a persuasive composite of a typically unstable African polity; in particular, the film eerily presages the destabilizing of Sierra Leone in the mid-'90s by gold mining interests. Irvin's lean, low-key direction is as effective in laying out the painstaking planning of the coup as in obliquely underlining the dire political effects of the exploitation of this tiny country by outsiders. As impersonal as this sounds, the film is as gripping as any thriller, imbued as it is with overtones of revenge, since Walken returns for the coup after having been tortured in Zingaro on his first visit. He gives another virtuoso performance as the existential warrior, a part that's as close as he's ever come to playing an action hero. The photography of gifted cameraman Jack Cardiff also contributes greatly to the film's atmosphere of menace.