Movie Review: War Dogs and I

War Dogs and I, not to be confused with the black comedy crime drama War Dogs, is a documentary from writer-director Stefan Enslin. A feature film writer and producer, Enslin has become a prolific documentarian, the creative force behind sports documentaries, Against the Odds and Unstoppable. Focusing on two athletes who triumphed over adversity through mental and physical toughness culminating in a remarkable achievement, the inspiration behind these uplifting sporting moments carries through in War Dogs and I.

Set during the early stages of the Russia-Ukraine conflict when Kiev was under attack, War Dogs and I centres on a man named Kobus Olivier and his four dogs. The documentary lands in the middle of Olivier’s darkest days when he was forced to hide out in his apartment’s underground parking lot as explosions and machine gun fire filled the air. Rewinding the clock to explain how a well-travelled former South African cricketer found himself the CEO of Ukraine Cricket Federation, War Dogs and I chronicles his journey from the war-torn country onto the next chapter of his life.

War Dogs and I is an unconventional film, focusing on a dislocated South African who flees his new home into Poland, where his refugee status is overturned in light of his South African citizenship. Not recognised as a Ukrainian refugee or given the same rights in terms of work permits, any glimmer of hope in establishing a new home in Warsaw is simply a mirage. Forced to move on with his days in Poland numbered, Olivier continues to think on his feet and trust in God’s providence.

While not a primary focus, faith becomes a crucial element to War Dogs and I as Olivier comes to rely on the kindness of strangers and lean on his spiritual conviction. Having lost his father, his four dogs are his family, making this dog lover committed to finding a way for them all to cross over borders and onto a new life. Trying his utmost to keep them together, War Dogs and I becomes a sentimental and thought-provoking journey between a man and his best friends: Tikkie, Ollie, Jessie and Kaya.

war dogs and i film

“No guys, we are not there yet.”

In many ways a character study, Kobus Olivier is a humble and unassuming subject, whose life was shaped by this arduous expedition across Europe. Honest, grounded and gentle in his recollection of events over that 4-week period, his tenderness is expressed in his affection for his pups, doing everything in his power to keep the family together. This heartfelt documentary may have a small story but it plays out on a much bigger canvas against the refugee crisis.

Through cellphone footage, camera interviews, drone footage and radio commentary, War Dogs and I pieces together a quirky yet sweet-natured tale of triumph over adversity. Echoing the device behind his sports documentaries, Enslin offers audiences a window into a specific time in European history from a South African’s perspective. Using an eclectic mix of visuals and effects, this sentimental film takes on the characteristics of its subject.

A heartwarming story for dog lovers, War Dogs and I offers a hopeful and optimistic perspective in an age where everyone could use some good news. Travelling across Europe, the film captures some beautiful sights and sounds in all the chaos, a constant reminder of how nature endures amid the turmoil of humanity. Never contemplating returning to South Africa at any stage, the well-travelled Olivier continues his nomadic existence, living in the moment and continuing to believe the best. While small and intimate, War Dogs and I uses emotive music and spirituality in a way that makes it reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s balance of joy and sorrow.

The bottom line: Tender