Directed By: John Irvin
Starring: Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger, Colin Blakely
Tag line: "Cry 'Havoc!' And Let Slip The Dogs Of War"
Trivia: Michael Cimino did an uncredited rewrite on the script
After barely escaping with his life while on a mission in Central America, mercenary Jamie Shannon (Christopher Walken) is next approached by UK businessman Roy Endean (Hugh Millais), who wants Shannon to travel incognito to Zangaro, a West African nation ruled by a tyrannical dictator, and photograph as much of that country’s military infrastructure as he possibly can.
Posing as an Ornithologist named Keith Brown, Shannon arrives in Zangaro claiming he's there to take some pictures of the area’s exotic birds. But the authorities don’t buy his cover story, and after a few days Shannon is arrested, tortured, and tossed out of the country.
Back in the U.S., a battered and beaten Shannon is again approached by Endean, who asks for his help in staging a military coup that will eliminate Zangaro's dictator once and for all. Rounding up the usual team: Drew (Tom Berenger), Derek (Paul Freeman), and Michel (Jean-Francois Stevenin), Shannon and his men travel to London to arrange the particulars of the mission. If the coup is successful, Endean will replace Zangaro's current leader with Col. Bobi (George Harris), who is open to doing business with the west.
With the promise of a big payday, Shannon and his mercenaries head to Zangaro, knowing full well they may never return home again.
Directed by John Irvin, 1980’s The Dogs of War kicks things off in exciting fashion, with Shannon and his men embroiled in a Central American conflict (which, by the looks of it, is not going well). The film then slows down a bit; Shannon hangs around New York (where he lives) for a while, then heads to Zangaro on his recon mission (while it does have a few intense scenes, this portion of the movie is mostly action-free). But even in its quieter moments, The Dogs of War is a very engaging film, thanks in large part to its star.
Fresh off his Oscar win for The Deer Hunter (Best Supporting Actor, 1979), Christopher Walken brings an inner strength to the enigmatic Shannon. We do eventually learn a little about the character's personal life (at one point Shannon tries to reconcile with his ex-wife Jessie, played by JoBeth Williams), but for the most part he remains a mystery. Whether on the battlefield or negotiating with shady dealers in London (purchasing firearms, arranging transportation, etc), Shannon is an intriguing individual, and Walken’s performance is what makes him so.
In addition to it's star, the last thirty minutes or so of The Dogs of War, which feature the fight for Zangaro, are pretty damn exciting. Using bad-ass weapons and with the help of a well-trained squad of Zangarons loyal to Bobi, Shannon and the others bring holy hell down upon their enemy, and as a result these final scenes are positively electric.
Balancing the film’s two main battle sequences with plenty of drama, The Dogs of War is an action / thriller well worth checking out.