War Dogs Review
GET RICH OR DIE TRYING
Director Todd Phillips has done solidified himself as a talented director in the comedy movie genre as well as writing and producing most of his features. After debuting “on the scene” as a director with the 1993 documentary movie Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, Phillips jumped into the foray of the comedy genre with such films as Frat House, Road Trip, Starsky & Hutch, Due Date, and the popular The Hangover Trilogy. Now, director Todd Phillips and Warner Bros. present a new movie about war profiteering in the film War Dogs. Does this new movie bring Phillips’s signature laughs or is it a far cry from fans expectations?
Bored and unsatisfied with his life as a male masseuse in Miami, David Packouz’s (Miles Teller) life becomes more complicated when his girlfriend, Isabella (Ana de Armas), discovers she’s pregnant, putting pressure on the disarrayed twentysomething year old to find a job that pays. After attending a friend’s funeral, David meets up with Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), an old schoolmate of his who’s become a shifty salesman in the arms dealing, and soon discovers an entire network used by the U.S. Government to bid for military contracts in buy weapons and supplies to outfit troops. Sensing a goldmine opportunity, Efraim builds a partnership with David, expanding on Efraim’s company AEY Inc., and embarking on a gun-running mission that takes them into the heart of trouble in Iraq. With their business thriving and money coming in, the pair make their success of war-profiteering. However, David is cautious with his trust in Efraim, who’s shady decision and ultimate partnering with an ambiguous suppler named Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper), places a huge risk on their very major (and lucrative) contract with the government.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As a director, I do usually like Todd Phillips’s movies. Probably my first one I saw was Road Trip and then probably Old School (love those two movies). Of course, I did see all three Hangover movies, with first movie my favorite of the three (Hangover II and Hangover III were just okay). Since I got to the movies (a lot), I do remember seeing the trailers for War Dogs (many, many times), so of course I was a bit intrigued to see the movie, especially since it says it was directed by Todd Phillips. After seeing the movie, I felt that War Dogs, while projecting an interesting real life story, doesn’t quite reach its overall cinematic goals.
Style-wise, director Todd Phillips seems to make War Dogs emulate Martin Scorsese’s Wolf on Wall Street (with its shifty dealings and dark comedic humor) as well as Andrew Niccol 2005 movie Lord of War. Interestingly, the story of David and Efraim is a “based on a true story”, which is covered in 2011 and titled “The Stoner Arms Dealers: How Two American Kids Became Big-Time Weapon Traders” by Rolling Stones writer Guy Lawson. After watching the movie, I was kind of interested in seeing the true story behind War Dogs, so I went online and goggled the article and found out that were some things (in the movie) that were dramatized for the feature. This isn’t uncommon for a “based on a true story” film, but it was interesting story to tell and got me to do some research beyond the feature film (which is a good thing). In addition, War Dogs projects a very good idea on its social commentary, speaking about the dark side of reaching the so-called “American Dream” that both Packouz and Diveroli aim for. Lastly, in terms of cinematic moviemaking, War Dogs’s director of photography Lawrence Sher does do a good job in showcasing the various sets for the film, switching between the dismal Albania to the luxurious lifestyle of Miami, and the war-torn Iraq.
Unfortunately, War Dogs isn’t quite the “exalted” movie as it does have its fair share of problems. For starters, the movie’s trailers painted the film in the wrong light. What I mean is this…the trailers for War Dogs suggest that the film is a comedy movie, with plenty of the more humorous bits of the feature being shown in the trailer as well as showcasing that is directed by Todd Phillips stating “From Todd Phillips…the director of The Hangover Trilogy”. Because of this, it makes a viewer think that War Dogs is more of comedy movie than what it actually is…a drama. Sure there’s some comedic parts that will make you laugh, but the movie itself isn’t a fully-fledged comedy movie as the film’s trailers make you believe. In a nutshell, if you go into this movie under the impression of it being a comedy, then you’ll be disappointed with War Dogs. To me, I was a bit. I think I should do editorial post on how movie trailers can be misleading to what the actual movie is.
In addition, War Dogs has (at various points) some uneven pacing / tone problems. Some parts are very humorous and light, while some parts are very dark and more serious. Usually its fine, but War Dogs shifts really quickly that it makes it feel a bit jarring at times. With its pacing, the film becomes problematic as I felt I was growing bored with the movie and my mind began to wander from the feature. Also adding to its list of problems is that it becomes apparently clear where the feature is ultimately going to end up. Yes, there are a few surprises along the way, but, for the most part, War Dogs’s narrative becomes predictable. Coinciding with that, the film’s third act seems a bit rushed as it tries to wrap everything up in really quickly within a twenty-minute window. All in all, War Dogs might be insightful in its real life story, but the film lacks cinematic greatness and doesn’t quite measure its lofty aims.
In terms of acting / characters, War Dogs has two strong leads that are played by two good actors. First there is Miles Teller, who plays the more straight-laced main character David Packouz. Teller, who is known for his roles in the deplorable 2015 Fantastic Four remake as well as the okay Divergent series flicks, and the great film Whiplash, plays David as the more relatable character (of the two) and does lend more weight in scenes where dramatic poise is needed more so than Hill does. Of course, Teller can also handle comedic scenes, which he does do well in the movie. Co-starring in the central “main character” light is Jonah Hill as Efraim Diveroli. Hill, who’s known for his comedic roles such as Superbad, the 21 Jump Street movies, and many others, plays Efraim with enough humorous bits (probably the funnier person of the two) and does have whole “smarmy” and “American” attitude that makes the character interesting. Respectfully, both Packouz and Diveroli, though been performed by well-acted actors and based on real life figures, are in the movie, more or less, caricatures and flat in their characterization.
In more supporting roles, is actor Bradley Cooper as the infamous weapons arms-dealer Henry Girard. While Cooper is role is brief, it is an important role towards the film’s third act and does have a somewhat lasting impression. Just don’t expect it to be an Oscar-worthy performance. Behind Cooper is actress Ana de Armas as David’s girlfriend Isabella. Armas does a good job in the role, but her character is elevated beyond the standard love interest, who is worried about David’s shifty dealings with Efraim. The rest of the supporting cast are small cameo-like appearance from some recognizable faces that you might “oh hey…. isn’t that the guy from (insert name of movie or TV show)”.
War, money, and the art of the deal are the key components in the movie War Dogs. Director Todd Philips newest film definitely portrays an interesting feature that’s elevated by its “based on a true story” narrative and in its two main leads as well as some of its supporting cast members. However, with a rushed third act, several moments of uneven pacing, and its false pretense label as being a comedy, the film never fully comes into its own with only partially hitting its ambitious goals. Personally, I thought it was just okay as it wasn’t Todd Phillips best. Yes, it had its moments (a couple of poignant ones), but it wasn’t something that I would watch over and over again. Still, the movie’s overall engagement level might vary higher (or lower) in another viewer’s eye. Thus, I give War Dogs an “iffy choice” mark in my reviewing score. War profiteering may have its perks and a “rise to glory” type of fame, but the choices and consequences in such dealings that Packouz and Diveroli did in the feature are a cautionary tale that both fame and destruction go hand-in-hand. At least, War Dogs got that right.
3.3 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)
Released On: August 19th, 2016
Reviewed On: September 12th, 2016
War Dogs is rated R for language throughout, drug use and some sexual references