I’ve been looking forward to War Dogs. As a fan of true-crime films such as The Wolf of Wall Street, Precinct Seven Five and Pain And Gain, I’ve been really looking forward to a new film in the same vein. And as a big fan of Miles Teller (who has been on a bit of a poor run recently, Fan4stic anyone?) I was hoping this could be a return to form.
War Dogs stars Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana De Armas and Bradley Cooper and is directed by Todd Phillips. The film follows the true story of David Packouz (Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Hill) who in their early 20s started running guns for the American Military in Iraq.
The director Todd Phillips’ highest profile work is The Hangover trilogy. From the promotion and the trailers, War Dogs looked to be continuing in that vein of often juvenile comedy. Thankfully, the comedy is toned down and the film as a whole is a lot more darker than it was advertised as. The Hangover crowd will find some fairly humorous moments; one scene where Jonah Hill struts around firing a machine gun in the air is one of the funniest parts of the film, but I liked how the humour is pushed back for space for a more mature story. While much of it is fictionalised, including one of the main scenes involving the duo running a truck of guns from Jordan to Iraq, it’s still an incredibly enjoyable film.
The actors do a fine job. Miles Teller is our main “everyman” type of guy, he provides a running voice over and the film is all from his point of view. Ana De Armas plays his wife Izzy, but neither have much personality beyond their roles in the story, they are pretty bland. Bradley Cooper, while a fun part of the film is not in most of it. He’s probably in it for ten minutes at the most, but his terrorist/evil gangster is an interesting role for an actor most known for being a comedy performer.
Jonah Hill though is the main comedy highlight. In a role similar to The Wolf Of Wall Street, he’s the scumbag to Teller’s nice guy. He likes to think he is a gangster; he has a massive picture of Scarface on his office wall, buys golden paper-weights in the shape of grenades and laughs manically like Jared Leto’s Joker. He’s bought totally into making money from the war, using the buzzwords of patriotism and the Free Market to clear his mind of any wrongdoing. A repeated line of his is “It’s not illegal,” which shows his entire character in three words.
The film is nearly two hours, and there is a little bit of a drop in the middle. The film starts great and ends great, but in the middle, once the duo have run their guns to Baghdad and have expanded their empire, it does drop with their second big contract. The film is split into around five “chapters”, with lines from the next part of the film being chapter titles e.g. “Welcome to Dick Cheney’s America!,” or “This is the whole effing pie!”. It’s like a less pretentious version of what Quentin Tarantino does with his films.
The whole films feels like The Wolf of Wall Street for teenagers, a TWOW-lite version. The shoddy stocks and bonds are replaced by AK-47s and over 100-million rounds of ammunition, and for good measure they went and borrowed Jonah Hill to play the same wacky/scummy sidekick of the main character. The glorification of money and despicable characters will obviously draw the anger of some critics, but that’s kind of missing the point. You not meant to cheer for the characters, but laugh at the ridiculous and risky things they do to make money and the mad opportunities that have been offered to them (such as supplying the entire Afghan Army).
The bad guys (or let’s just say “morally questionable” guys) is nothing new to cinema, and I bet that due to its subject matter, War Dogs will get lumped in with films like Pain And Gain or the previously mentioned Wolf. Don’t let that put you off, it’s one of the better things this summer and gets a hearty recommendation from me.
Score: 8/10 A lot smarter, funnier and better than it has any right to be.