A humorous examination of Dick Cheney’s America.
War Dogs is based on the somewhat stranger-than-fiction account of two real life pot head arms dealers, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller). David is a college dropout, who works as a massage therapist to make ends meet. After his business venture of selling luxury bed sheets to retirement homes falls through, David is desperate for money, especially once he finds out his girlfriend has recently become pregnant. Enter Efraim, an old friend from high school that gives David the opportunity of a life time: a partnership in bidding on small-time legal contracts to supply the U.S. military.
“War is an economy” says David in the film’s narration, and director Todd Phillips is determined to make that point apparent. Phillips uses this absurd story of these two young arms dealers as a satirical lens to view the effects of the Iraq War and war profiteering. War Dogs is not unlike The Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short in its grey portrayal (some would say glorification) of these young entrepreneurs. Phillips isn’t necessarily taking any sort of moral stance against Diveroli and Packouz, he merely uses them as a tool in which to highlight how fucked up the system is.
Phillips avoidance of over vilifying the protagonists (primarily David) is what helps to make War Dogs so damn entertaining and fun. While it may lack the bite of the aforementioned films, War Dogs manages to make quite a political statements of its own, wrapped up in a stylistic and bouncy film about a couple of young gun runners.
Comedy films are usually plagued by directors who shoot their films in a flat and generic style, but Todd Phillips is one of the few with a real visual and cinematic eye. War Dogs is filled with flashy and showy camerawork and cinematography, helping to emphasize the excess and debauchery that makes up the film’s subject matter. Phillips may have crafted his best film yet in War Dogs, and while that isn’t exactly saying much, it’s a genuine compliment.
War Dogs is at it’s best when Teller and Hill share the screen and are able to bounce off one another. The pair has such fantastic chemistry, and their friendship/rivalry is the most enjoyable portion of the film. Teller’s David is the straight man of the duo, he’s more sympathetic, and he’s reluctant about the more shady aspects of his job, and gets into the business mainly to take care of his family. Hill’s Efraim on the other hand is a brash, ethnocentric, sleazy, Scarface aficionado whose primary concern is making money, damn the consequences. Hill plays him with a similar energy as his Donnie from The Wolf of Wall Street, but there are enough nuances that Hill brings to the character to differentiate the two. Both actors bring an abundance of charisma to their respective roles, and are what help make War Dogs so damn engaging.
When the film focuses on these two, it works. Problems arise when the pair are split up. David has a subplot involving trust issues with his girlfriend Iz (Ana De Armas), but this aspect of the plot is so over-played. Iz is less of a character and more a plot device to force more drama into David’s life, which ends up making her feel superfluous to the film.
The real problem with War Dogs arise in the third act. While the first two acts are able to maintain a constant sense of comedic and thrilling energy, the third act opts for more of a dramatic punch in the inevitable fallout of David and Efraim. The issue is that the catalyst for the divide between the characters feels so rushed and contrived, that the majority of the dramatic weight of the events that transpired were lost on me. I couldn’t buy into the drama of the final act because I was unable to buy into the events that caused it, which is a shame.
While the film stumbles in its final act, the kinetic sense of fun and humor that define the majority of the film help War Dogs rise above its fumbled climax. Teller and Hill are so engaging together and Phillips adds a copious amount of visual and satirical flair to the film that it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the hellish, borderline unbelievable journey these two go through. And man is it an enjoyable and hilarious ride, for the most part. With the addition of the small but memorable roles to Bradley Cooper and Kevin Pollak, War Dogs does a lot of things right, and while it isn’t a classic like the previously mentioned films, it’s one that is damn entertaining.