Based on the 1975 National Book Award-winning novel “Dog Soldiers” by Robert Stone (which was subsequently voted by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best novels between 1923 and 2005), “Who’ll Stop the Rain” is a dark, nail-biting film about drug running, Vietnam, and the decline of the counterculture into crime and violence. It stars Nick Nolte as a merchant marine sailor who agrees to smuggle a large quantity of heroin from Vietnam for a journalist friend played by Michael Moriarty. Things go south fast, with thugs hired by a rogue DEA agent in hot pursuit. So, Nolte grabs the heroin and Moriarty’s drug-addicted spouse (played by Tuesday Weld) and hits the road. The result is a surprising amount of well-staged and suspenseful action for a film this bleak in its look at human nature.
The direction by Reisz and performances by all parties, including Nolte, Moriarty, Weld, Anthony Zerbe, Ray Sharkey, and Richard Masur, are excellent. This is an extremely gritty and violent psychological thriller that would never be greenlit today by a Hollywood studio. Even back in the 1970s, the distribution branch of United Artists detested the film because the film’s main hero (Nolte) is a drug runner and virtually dumped the film, despite its acclaimed director, cast, literary pedigree, and it was one of the films selected to compete for that year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Fiestival. It’s sad this film never found its audience, because it packs a wallop, both viscerally and emotionally. This is 1970s cinema at its best.