TL;DR – It’s an interesting film, well-acted, and produced, but if you have seen any of the recent films in this genre, or on the same themes, namely greed, then you will probably guess how this one plays out.
Score – 3 out of 5 stars
War Dogs is many things, it’s a subversive film underscoring the incompetence of the Bush/Cheney government in both starting and managing the Iraq War, it’s a modern interpretation of the classic morality tale, it’s the proving ground for one of the most weirdly obnoxious laughs in movie history, and it’s the personification of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition in movie form.
The story of War Dogs revolves around David Packouz (Miles Teller) who floats from job to job in Miami until he is reunited with his best friend from high school Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), who in the preceding years has become an arms dealer. Before you know it Efraim has got David helping him in the business, which is problematic because David’s girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) is not a fan of the whole ‘War in Iraq’ that they are facilitating. So, in general, how did the story go, well you will probably be able to chart the trajectory of the film from the first 5 or 10 minutes, of course, this is all helped by the in medias res opening which really does overplay its hand. However, even though you can probably tell where the movie will end up, the ride to that conclusion is a pretty good one. Part of this is helped by the fact that this is a “True” story, so this gives a bit more weight to the story, though like all “True” stories there is obviously a lot of dramatisation going on. The one thing with the story that is a bit of a problem is that it loses a lot of momentum in the third act, and now some of this was clearly intended by the filmmakers, but instead of giving you a moment to pause, it just starts to drag.
I have to admit I do love when my two passions collide and War Dogs is one of those times when International Relations comes calling to the movie business. Now quite often when movies represent this area they have a habit of either being just the worse, like in the terrible Stealth which had America bombing (without a declaration of war) the Burmese Ministry of Defence because there were Islamic Terrorists holding a meeting there, and frankly that sentence is by far not stupidest thing that happens in that movie. Indeed even the films that try to get things right do still have their problems, for example, Argo who basically ignored all the work that the British, Kiwi’s and Canadians did, so it could be more ‘woo America’. For me, this is kind of like that cringe that your computer friend does whenever someone tries to ‘hack’ a computer on TV. So how does War Dogs do, well about the same as Whisky Tango Foxtrot (review) which came out early this year, not bad, but it glosses over quite a bit. Indeed come to think of it, there actually are quite a few similarities between War Dogs and WTF, including their setting, tone, and character arcs.
As far as the acting goes, it is all quite solid from the small cast, but it did feel like I have seen all of these characters before. We have seen Jonah Hill be the sleazy businessman, we’ve seen Miles Teller be the fish out of water, and we’ve seen Bradley Cooper be that self-centered narcissist before. So outside Jonah Hill’s laugh, which will oscillate from annoying to humorous and then back again throughout the course of the film, you don’t get a sense as to what is different about this movie compared to others like it. As far as the production goes, it was good to see them go out of their way to get the details of the early 2000s right, even if it is soul crushingly depressing that that period of time is now considered a period piece. It also makes good use of filming on location to give the movie more scope that it would have had otherwise, I liked the use of title cards to break the movie up into chapters, but some of the quotes could have been selected a bit better.
In the end, even if you know nothing about the “True” story before you came into the cinema, you will still probably guess the arc of the film from the first 5 minutes. Usually this would be a big problem for me, but the cast is solid, the story is interesting, and a highlighting the woeful failures of the Bush/Cheney government in Iraq is always appreciated, but just be prepared you will have to sit through drugs, language, and Jonah Hill’s laugh before you get to the end.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Todd Phillips
Screenplay by – Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips & Jason Smilovic
Based on – Arms and the Dudes by Guy Lawson
Starring – Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, JB Blanc, Barry Livingston & Bradley Cooper.
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; NZ: R16; UK: 15; USA: R