From the outset this film revels in its political incorrectness. While being a childlike romance, there is a deep dark current below the surface here that may make it difficult to discern between the genuine moments of sweetness and nastiness.
Corporal Eddie Birdlace (River Phoenix) is about to turn 20. Itís 1963 and heís on his last night in America before shipping to Okinawa the next morning. He and his friends are playing their last round of ĎDogfightí, a game where everyone throws in $50 and the winner is the man bringing the ugliest date to a nightclub rendezvous. With such a callous disregard for the feelings of so many women itís sometimes hard to feel anything but loathing for these young men - until we realise theyíre just pathetic infants with little experience of the outside world.
After a few dismal tries, Eddie discovers Rose in a cafť and soon has her so buttered up as to come with him to the party. However, Eddie soon sees in her something he hasnít ever seen before, and he swiftly develops feelings for her. Soon though, the game is up and Rose discovers she is an entry in the game and after an angry tirade, she storms out. After some time, Eddie realises his grave error and sets about repairing the damage with Rose and so begins their night on the town together as they come to know each other better.
Eddie isnít a likeable fellow (nor are his friends), but Phoenix takes on the role bravely and gives a great performance as this over-zealous young Marine with little by way of redeeming character. Lili Taylor is remarkable as Rose, the mildly downtrodden waitress dreaming of her future as a folk singer. Between the two there is a distinct chemistry that both unites them and sets them apart as individuals and this has been well captured by director Nancy Savoca. However, the film does run deep with a subtle sadness that exists on various levels and this makes the film much more bittersweet than romantic.
Still, itís an interesting and well-shot film that incorporates some incredible authenticity of the day. There is an outstanding collection of arcade amusement machines throughout, plus numerous other deliberate placements of filmstock and TV footage. This sets the filmís date, but also fills it with a naÔvetť and innocence that reminds us our two young lovers are just that. In this regard their awkwardness is touching, even moving, but that darker mood beneath is hard to ignore.
Shot in 1991, the picture quality here is nice and sharp with little by way of film artefacts. The colour is even throughout and flesh tones are all natural. Being that 95 percent of the film occurs in one evening, most of the film is a night shot. Regarding this, the blacks all look true to life, although shadow detail is a little average. There are also odd occasions of graininess depending on the light source for the shot, but these come and go and arenít all that common. The film is delivered in the theatrical aspect of 1.85:1 with anamorphic enhancement and generally itís a great picture for its 13 years with the transfer to DVD being accomplished in the usual quality manner of Warner Brothers.
Warnerís budget releases like this one have many similar features that are easily identified. Among the audio we usually have a Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack that does the job effectively. Here this has occurred as well, although levels between dialogue and music are quite unbalanced. There are numerous soft-spoken lines that had me running the volume right up before copping an earful as the music kicked in shortly after. This is really the only problem of note in the whole audio soundscape of the DVD. The musical soundtrack is sensational, with bags of great songs from the time being well used throughout to compliment character moods.
Dogfight is a different love story and even one thatís mildly confusing at times, but itís well worth the look to see River Phoenix playing less than his usual clean cut good guy role. Lili Taylor is charming as Rose and the whole story is a bittersweet fable of young love in wartime. I enjoyed the film, regardless of the inherent sadness within, and when considering the price-tag, can easily recommend it.