Lord Of ‘War Dogs’ (Movie Review)

war dogs thumbDirector Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Old School) has been angling for a film like War Dogs the same way Oscar winner Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers) angled for The Big Short. Both have not been above making goofy bro comedies, but they obviously have other ideas. McKay was met with plenty of acclaim for tackling the financial crisis, which was an undercurrent in his film The Other Guys. Phillips has shown a liking for much darker comedy/drama and getting great cinematography in films you wouldn’t necessarily expect that from. This story of two young guys that became successful arms dealers fulfills those needs.


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Based on a true story (that has been heavily fictionalized), Miles Teller plays David Packouz, a guy going nowhere in life and in need of some sort of success to help him and his pregnant girlfriend (Ana de Armas). Enter Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), a walking, talking example of someone you can’t trust. David does trust Efraim though (the two were best friends when they were in middle school) and follows him into the world of government weapons contracts during the 00s. The two operate on the shady side, which means ethics stand back, while profits and danger take over.

War Dogs operates somewhat like a Martin Scorsese fan-film, but an entertaining and well-made one. The actions of these characters is reprehensible to say the least (regardless of any greater good argument) and their attitudes about this play as they should. These are characters who are not likable, but are quite watchable, as they have effectively built lives around a Scarface principle. No, Efraim and David are not talking dealing with chainsaw-wielding thugs and waving around grenade launchers, but they embrace their position of little bros that become much bigger bros (and swear a lot).

We know this because Efraim does little to mask his affection for Tony Montana and David provides plenty of information (and fun) in constant narration. This is not a crutch, just the way the film’s Goodfellas-inspired sensibilities have to operate. Fortunately both actors commit.

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Miles Teller is apparently destined to switch back and forth between comic relief and the straight man of a duo. Here he plays things pretty straight and naïve. He’s fine and a good counterbalance to Hill, but clearly holding onto a level of angst that doesn’t overshadow the film.

Hill is the clear force of the film, adding back much of the weight he had shed previously and supplying the film with plenty of comedy thanks to an awkward (and somewhat sinister) laugh. The Efraim character easily shares a sociopathic quality similar to his Wolf of Wall Street character (his second Oscar nomination, as you may recall), but perhaps to even better resutls. With that, Hill is able to garner a lot of attention towards himself, which is right for the role. It leads to bad things, as far as the story goes, but the character is supposed to be a firecracker.

The main issue is how clear that is from the beginning. There is no real mystery about who these guys are, meaning their journeys are not at all that surprising. We watch the story playout in a somewhat episodic pattern that depicts a standard rise and fall. There is certainly joy to be had, as Phillips does make a good-looking film that does its best to capitalize on both comedy and drama. The film is never intensely funny or incredibly tense, but it gets the job done.

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Curiously, many seem to be having a problem in how to read the film’s intentions. While the ‘protagonist’ describes his actions and expresses admiration for how he goes about this business of arms dealing, it shouldn’t be beyond the audience that War Dogs is not a celebration of these guys. Make no mistake, these guys do a lot of dumb things, regardless of how much the film does to the characters to make them fully aware of that, but this is also not a film in need of firmly telling you what’s wrong with all of this.

While not a defining crime-comedy for the year, War Dogs is entertaining enough. It makes good use of Teller and Hill as a team and even throws in Bradley Cooper for good measure. War Dogs even makes the best out of having Albania, Iraq and Afghanistan as key settings for the film, when the guys aren’t at home in Miami. This story of a couple dudes that sold guns is actually quite harmless, but it is an enjoyable watch.

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