As a filone film from the director of the impressive giallo A White Veil for Mariale and slasher Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, Romano Scavolini, it comes as little surprise when Dog Tags quickly demonstrates itself to have aspirations higher than the bulk of Italian war entries by dint of opening with a prologue and concluding with an epilogue re-iterating the factual basis of what we have just seen.
War is hell
While certainly still indulging in some action movie clichés, the result emerges as a worthy attempt by the self-proclaimed auteur to translate something of his own experiences of the Vietnam war as a photographer – a role translating in the film into a German freelance photographer in search of a scoop who bribed some soldiers to take him along – to the screen, with the tone more Platoon or Apocalypse Now than Rambo and the question thus less whether “we” get to win this time as who this “we” refers to in the first place.
The truth and nothing but?
In between the prologue and epilogue the action is divided up into acts, a somewhat artificial device that lessens the documentary angle but that otherwise presents one of Scavolini's concessions to entertainment, against the general backdrop of unpleasant characters and situations along with a callousness and cynicism unlikely to appeal to the more casual viewer looking for a fun way to spend 90 minutes.
We begin the story proper with the rescue of a number of American prisoners from Vietnamese tiger cages by a special forces type, Cecil. So far so conventional.
The rescuers and the rescued are then commanded by Captain Newport to retrieve some strongboxes of secret documents from a downed South Vietnamese helicopter, from where they will then be picked up by the re-scheduled helicopter.
The men accomplish this against heavy odds despite their generally poor physical condition and lack of equipment, but sustain some casualties in the process. Again, pretty conventional.
Then they discover the real contents of the strongboxes: looted gold. While this revelation in turn is perhaps somewhat predictable, as are the differences in opinion over what to do next, the result is anything but a harmless war-caper entry. Rather the men increasingly turn on one another for possession of the loot, as when some favour leaving a comrade with an infected leg behind and re-distributing his share, with rather fewer laughs and hi-jinks than a Kelly's Heroes or Inglorious Bastards.