Colonialism at War

Although set in a fictional African country, Zangaro, Dogs of War joins a distinctly ‘80s film genre that sought to “fix” the Vietnam war’s moral quagmire. In some, America wins decisively, rewriting real world history to soften the blow to military egos. From the perspective of Dogs of War, it’s more concerned about the soldiers, and the capitalist, political exploitation that placed them in those circumstances.

There’s nuance in Dogs of War, cautiously speaking out through subtle dialog exchanges, as with a reporter who was nearly killed trying to expose Zangaro’s corruption, but his story is defeated in the ratings to a rival network’s dance competition. An African woman notes British rule gave her country electricity, but then independence gave rise to dictators. The latter feeds into Dogs of War’s truth, that Zangaro was never truly cut off from British rule – it simply took a different form to serve wealthy white men.

Dogs of War is relentlessly cruel when speaking on the world’s inequality

Christopher Walken stars, the gruff veteran lured into the nation via a substantial payday. He relents, if only because he doesn’t know how to do anything other than fight. What’s critical is Walken only agrees out of spite, and after a vicious, raw 1980s action sequence, stands up for the people who were wronged. It’s a stellar character arc, carefully drawn as to deliver the post-Vietnam anxieties and guilt felt by so many.

Dogs of War isn’t righteous. It’s not even morally pure. Instead, Dogs of War is relentlessly cruel when speaking on the world’s inequality. Walken’s hired gun becomes the perfect dissident, emotionally cold and mentally tormented. Seeing him casually deal with scummy weapons dealers over tens of thousands of dollars, guns that cost more than Zangaro’s entire national wealth, provides Dogs of War with a potent symbolism.

When seeking more commercial aspirations, Dogs of War falters. Watching Walken and his team obliterate a village with grenade launchers (while others go full Rambo) feels like a crass send-off. The scale is superb, but the effect isn’t authentic. It’s cheap, it’s Hollywood, and while necessarily uncomfortable, Dogs of War sheds an entire layer of earnest commentary to be an easier sell when when cutting together a trailer.

Dogs of War Blu-ray screen shot

Video

Sourced from a fresh 2K interpositive scan (so says the marketing blurb), Scorpion Releasing does generally fine work on this print. Stray dust/dirt is the only sign of age on an otherwise spotless film stock. There is slight concern over the grain structure, often too light while leaving a muddier image as opposed to something crisp. It’s nominal, and plentiful fidelity ensues (thankfully), so whatever the mastering process, there is care involved. Likely, some filtering hides faults in the source.

The rest glows, bringing a rich, warm color base to the palette. Color suggests a minor digital touch-up, if nothing severe or betraying the 35mm stock’s purity. Flesh tones succeed in staying natural. Scenery around Africa generates plentiful, deep greens along with other primaries.

Exteriors allow sunlight to drench the vistas, and Dogs of War looks quite dazzling as a result. Contrast is never lacking, and likely helps the disc appear even sharper than it is. Add in the densest black levels possible and Dogs of War gains further visual energy. The story tone is gritty, but the gloss afforded to the film in this new master almost betrays that. Almost.

Audio

A widely spaced stereo track stretches everything from bustling city streets to dialog when actors take up position on opposite sides of the frame. It’s precise.

In DTS-HD, clarity wobbles a bit. Inherent flatness in the older source material doesn’t stretch the range during action scenes, and the score falls behind the explosions or gunfire, lost in the chaos. Given the early ’80s time frame though, it’s acceptable.

Extras

Four all-new interview segments track down key members of the crew, plus co-stars Maggie Scott and Paul Freeman.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Dogs of War
  • Video
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  • Extras
4

Movie

A striking allegory for colonialism and Vietnam, The Dogs of War finds a message in-between the dramatic political positioning.

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