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HBO presents
Dirty War (2005)

"Unfortunately, we live in difficult times, and must be prepared for every eventuality."
- Nicola Painswick, Minister for London (Helen Schlesinger)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: April 05, 2005

Stars: Alastair Galbraith, Koel Purie, Ewan Stewart, Helen Schlesinger
Other Stars: Martin Savage, Joe Tucker, William El-Gardi, Houda Echouafni, Louise Delamere, Paul Antony-Barber
Director: Daniel Percival

Manufacturer: Deluxe Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, violence)
Run Time: 01h:30m:03s
Release Date: April 05, 2005
UPC: 026359261428
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A+BB B+

DVD Review

Experts tell us that the likelihood of a terrorist group detonating a dirty bomb—essentially a traditional explosive filled with radioactive materials that can be dispersed over a large area—is almost a certainty. It's really just a matter of when and where. In Daniel Percival's film Dirty War, the target is London, and it is up to an assorted collection of agencies and authorities to come together in a time of great crisis to not only control the frightened masses, but to get the bad guys, in this case a cell of Muslim extremists.

The underlying message in the first half of Percival's film is that all the talk of preparations and readiness by the government is akin to so many hollow promises, as facts and figures don't really match up with the hard truth. Equipment, training, supplies, education are all well below acceptable standards that are needed to have a proper force that can not just control the aftermath of an attack, but prevent it in the first place.

The Minister of London (Helen Schlesinger), who speaks of a "balance between truth and assurance," puts on weak media front that the state of readiness and training is acceptable. A dedicated Watch Commander at a local fire station (Alastair Galbraith), who has first hand experience at the ineffectiveness of preparedness training, speaks out harshly about the real inadequacies, citing his perceptions of "national security as an excuse for incompetence." Meanwhile, as the arrest of three suspicious North Africans leads Scotland Yard (including Koel Purie as a beautiful Muslim detective) on a hunt for hidden terrorist cells in the heart of London, Percival alternates the narrative by focusing on the Muslim extremists who are building a series of dirty bombs in the basement of a crowded North London flat.

Some of the police work subplots, such as them watching a terrorist suspect as he sits in the window of a restaurant wiping his fingerprints off of a coffee cup, are a little too convenient, but are necessary to keep the film moving along at a brisk 90 minutes. It is the chaos that ensues after the terrorists successfully detonate the first of their explosives when Dirty War truly ratchets up the tension, because the blend of horror, confusion, order and the unknown seems realistic. In a sign of hope, so the story is not completely downbeat, the implied ineffectiveness of London's training is balanced alongside the dedication of those involved, operating on intuition and limited supplies in order to try and quell a catastrophe.

It's clear we can no longer afford to shrug off the possibility of an attack like this taking place. Dirty War is sort of a terryifying primer on what can go wrong—mixed with some textbook melodrama—and it seems that if and when something like this happens, there is little that can be done to really make it any better. It's all about containment and control.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: HBO has released Dirty War in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the presentation is much crisper and cleaner than my DirecTV satellite signal. The film often takes on a muted, metallic appearance, and color rendering is a shade to the left of vibrant, especially during the post-detonation sequences. Some instances of ringing and shimmer are evident, most notably in skyline shots.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The backcover states there is supposed to be a 5.0 mix available, but the only options here are 2.0 surround (both English and Spanish). The 2.0 mix is more than adequate, delivering clean dialogue and occasional directional pans across the front channels, and occasional bass rumble when needed. Not a showcase mix, but very serviceable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Daniel Percival, Lizzie Mickery
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Only one extra here, but it's a good one. It's a commentary track from writer/director Daniel Percival and writer Lizzie Mickery, and for those of you still living under the premise that a film like Dirty War is not based on fact should give this one a listen. Percival talks extensively about how carefully the script was constructed, being based extensively on fact and reality; it's a largely serious track, but Percival and Mickery seem to have done their homework in writing this film.

The disc is cut into 10 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Daniel Percival's harrowing fictional look at just how woefully unprepared we are for a dirty bomb detonation is just not really a "feel good" film, no matter how you slice it.

Scary stuff. Recommended.


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