War Dogs Review
Todd Phillips directed all three "Hangover" movies, as well as "Due Date" back in 2011. Even though those movies are comedies, there is a realistic, grimy edge woven into the style of each of those movies. Analyzing those film's aesthetic, its was pretty clear to me that Phillips would make a masterful dramatic director if he ever set his mind to it. So of course I am given "War Dogs," and while there is quite a bit to laugh at when it comes to "War Dogs," it is mostly a drama film, and quite an engaging one at that.
"War Dogs" tells the true story of Dave Packouz (Miles Teller) is a massage therapist living in Miami, Florida. He dropped out of college, he doesn't have any money, no family that will help him, and once he tries to launch a bed-sheet business, he miserably fails. At a funeral, he runs into an old junior high friend Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). Efraim seems to be doing very well for himself as somebody who "buys guns at gun shows then selling them online." But Dave soon finds out that this isn't exactly what Efraim is doing. Apparently he is a low-level weapons provider. Somebody who the United States deals with in secret. After hanging out with Dave again, and showing him the ropes, Efraim invited Dave to be his partner in his weapons trafficking business. With a baby on the way with his girlfriend (Ana De Armas), Dave agrees. The rest of the film chronicles their successes and misfortunes selling weapons.
Much like I stated above, Phillips raw style is on full display here. It actually helps set the tone of the film very well. Sure, there are some funny parts (due mostly in part by Jonah Hill), but this is a drama. Dead on. As a movie its expertly directed. You get a wonderful birds-eye-view of what it could have been like being in this type of profession at that time. All of the actors involved, whether they have small or large roles, came to play and everyone does very good work here. Phillips takes us by the hand into the sweaty underbelly of gun-running and its a sometimes clever, sometimes harrowing experience.
Miles Teller and Jonah Hill do outstanding work together here. They create a sensible and tangible chemistry with ease. I think out of the two, Jonah Hill will end up sticking out the most. He plays the stereotypical American asshole and absolutely unleashes his hidden talents. I sure hope the Academy doesn't overlook this film, because Hill could get himself another supporting actor nod next year. This is really one of his better performances in quite awhile and he'll definitely be one of your favorite parts of the film. If not THE favorite. Bradley Cooper makes a couple appearances in the film as Henry Girard, a fellow arms dealer who is on a watch list who assists the duo in a big deal given to them by the Pentagon. Cooper is really good in this, even if his time onscreen is limited.
The only thing that feels a little weird to me, is the structure of the film. While the film is fantastically acted and well directed, the writing could have used a tune-up. The film opens with Miles Teller getting thrown out of the trunk of a car in his underwear, then proceeds to get beat up by masked men. All while we hear Miles Teller narrate in a voice-over. We have several scenes just like this and you can bet we the film comes full circle with Teller getting thrown out of the trunk, while learning how he got in the trunk in the first place. It feels a little too "Fight Club," to me and its dead give away for a totally predictable film. The film also echoes beats from "The Social Network" and "Boiler Room" and I just sat back, waiting for the movie to become something of its own.
But that's a curse when making something based on a true story. If we don't know the outcome of a true story, we can look it up at any given moment. Movies based on true stories are tricky, so when I see one that capture the attention of the viewers in a clever and engaging way, it feels fresh. It feels special. "War Dogs" was able to pull this off, and I think that counts for something. The structure of the film may feel a little too familiar for most audiences, but that doesn't mean it isn't one hell of a ride.
FINAL GRADE: B+