Review: War Dogs
PLOT: Two twenty-something stoner buddies become arms dealers when they successfully bid on a government contract to supply arms to troops stationed in Iraq.
REVIEW: THE HANGOVER 3 suggested that director Todd Phillips was eager to move away from zany comedy. How else can you justify the fact that the movie wound-up being so darn serious? It signaled that Philips was looking to get more ambitious and sure enough WAR DOGS is a significant step in a whole new direction for the director. While there are still funny parts, for the most part WAR DOGS is a straightforward crime drama, with an intriguingly grey sense of morality at its core.
The guys, played here by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, are based on real people. Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz were indeed two L.A stoners who made a fortune chasing government contracts to supply arms in Iraq, but their greed and willingness to bend morally marked their downfall. Considering that they were virtual merchants of death, it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that Phillips never tries to make us like the two leads too much. Consider this WOLF OF WALL STREET-lite. We observe them and find ourselves amused by their wild antics, but to his credit Phillips doesn’t attempts to justify their actions.
The roles feel tailor-made for both actors. Teller plays the more stable of the pair, a wannabe businessman reduced to working as a masseuse while trying to sell bed sheets to retirement homes (one owner complains using the soft sheets would be like wrapping “lizards in silk”). He’s shown to be a family man (with a pregnant wife played by Ana de Armas) and he’s a good enough guy – at first – until greed does a number on him. Teller manages that transition really well.
However, WAR DOGS really feels like a showcase for Hill, who’s exceptional as the morally bankrupt Diveroli, who just wants to make more and more money and will do whatever he has to in order to guard his hide. Constantly snorting coke and looking heavier than ever (Hill lost weight right after) while sporting a L.A spray-on tan, Hill hasn’t been this good since WOLF OF WALL STREET, and he clearly relishes being the lead this time as opposed to support.
Surprisingly, Phillips has also managed to get an uncredited Bradley Cooper on-board for a substantial part. Playing an arms dealer barred from doing business in the U.S, he looks like a streamlined version of Hill’s character, with a quieter manner complementing his slick look. A dangerous guy, you can tell when Hill and Teller get in bed with him that they’re going down a dark road, although Hill’s clearly full-steam ahead from the get-go.
At about two hours, Phillips, while making a Scorsese-style movie, hasn’t gone whole hog and tried to turn this into an epic. There’s no need, as he’s able to do this story a lot of justice in just under two hours. While I have some minor problems with the movie, such as a too familiar scene early-on where Teller’s able to guess the make and model of the gun he’s being threatened with (like in LORD OF WAR), overall this was a really solid late-summer surprise and a gem of a crime caper. I highly recommend this to people who enjoy this kind of true-crime tale, and I fully expect Phillips to get some well-deserved critical acclaim out of this.
CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...