(director: Karel Reisz; screenwriters: based on the novel Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone/Robert Stone/Judith Rascoe; cinematographer: Richard H. Kline; editor: John Bloom; music: Laurence Rosenthal; cast: Nick Nolte (Ray Hicks), Tuesday Weld (Marge Converse), Michael Moriarty (John Converse), Anthony Zerbe (Antheil), Richard Masur (Danskin), Ray Sharkey (Smitty), Gail Strickland (Charmian), Charles Haid (Eddie Peace), David Opatoshu (Bender); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Herb Jaffe/Gabriel Katzka; MGM Home Entertainment; 1978)

“Nolte finds his groove as the anti-hero roughneck.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

British filmmaker Karel Reisz (“Night Must Fall”/”Isadora”/”The French Lieutenant’s Woman”) directs this gripping action film of a couple-on-the-run. It’s set during the Vietnam War in the 1970s, and its hard-bitten drug story serves as a means of social commentary on the confusing and corrupting war. The pic’s intentions are explained by a traumatized war correspondent, who says ‘in a world where elephants are pursued by flying men, people are just naturally going to want to get high.’ It’s based on the 1973 National Book Award Winning Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone, who writes the screenplay with Judith Rascoe. The title refers to mercenary soldiers who are willing to die for any cause if the price is right.

Disillusioned by the war, oily liberal war correspondent John Converse (Michael Moriarty) schemes to bring two kilos of pure heroin back to the States as a go-between for professional drug dealers. John involves his ex-marine burnt out buddy Ray Hicks (Nick Nolte), now a merchant seaman, to smuggle the powder from Vietnam to his wife Marge (Tuesday Weld) in Berkeley for a cool one thousand bucks. But Ray’s tailed by two crooked lackey thugs hired by the CIA, (Richard Masur and Ray Sharkey), who want the heroin for themselves and they are led by their corrupt rogue CIA boss (Anthony Zerbe). When trying to pick up his dough from Marge, who doesn’t have it, John must overcome the two crooked thugs to escape with Marge. They go on the run taking us on a trip through America’s counter-culture. The two fall in love and Ray hooks Marge on the drug in order to keep her. Meanwhile John is kidnapped by the thugs and tortured. It leads to a powerful climax confrontation at a deserted New Mexico mountaintop hippie commune.

Nolte finds his groove as the anti-hero roughneck, in a film that emphasizes character study and aims to make a statement about wasted lives. Michael Moriarty and Tuesday Weld also capture the downbeat mood of the 1970s, in a film that has nothing to do with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song that’s used as its title but a lot to do with the book’s title of Dog Soldiers. Despite all its strengths, especially in getting most of the graphic dialogue from the book into the film, there are elements of the storytelling that seem pretentious. This cheapens the emotional statements it was trying to make about the world gone war crazy and being the cause of a break down in civilization and a distrust of the power structure.

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