War Dogs (15)

Synopsis:

The true story of David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli. David is working as a massage therapist in Miami and he lives with his girlfriend Iz, who informs him that she is pregnant. When his old school friend Efraim returns to Miami the two reconnect and Efraim decides to offer David a job… as a fellow gun-runner.

Review:

War Dogs is aiming to be The Wolf of Wall Street, but with guns and roadtrips through Baghdad. In fact, it wants to be The Wolf of Wall Street a lot even going so far to have Jonah Hill as (one of) the main characters. However, this film is certainly not The Wolf of Wall Street in terms of both length and quality and Todd Phillips is definitely not Martin Scorcese. Having said that, War Dogs is not a bad film – not at all. It is certainly the best film that Miles Teller has been in since the glorious Whiplash in 2014. I am aware that such a statement is a striking example of ‘damning with faint praise’, but I don’t mean it to be. War Dogs is a good film.

The real stand-out star of this film is Jonah Hill who plays a character who is even more nasty and repulsive than he was in The Wolf of Wall Street, we’re talking total moral bankruptcy. The most striking thing about him is the high-pitched laugh that is so intensely unpleasant to listen to. Every time he laughed I could feel my fists clenching. Think David Brent’s laugh but infinitely worse. It’s an utterly brilliant and astoundingly compelling character that he plays – Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort with less of a conscience.

Starring alongside Jonah Hill is Miles Teller as fellow gun-runner David Packouz. If War Dogs was Goodfellas (which it never could be) then Miles Teller would be Ray Liotta. The victim character who falls in with the wrong crowd and is gradually seduced by the riches yielded by their amoral deeds. His performance isn’t particularly memorable, it certainly isn’t in the same league as Hill’s, but for the part of the victim it doesn’t need to be. He plays the average schmuck role well, but it is a slight disappointment considering we know he can do so much, a la Whiplash. Having said that it is a blessing to see him in an undeniably good film rather than dumpster diving fare such as Fant4stic.

I’d like to take the time to address two of the side characters that made an impression on me. The first is Henry Girard played by Bradley Cooper. He’s an actor who has become somewhat legitimate in recent years after going through a period of self-reinvention that was largely made possible by David O Russell. His characterisation of Henry in War Dogs is 50% acting and 50% wardrobe. He delivers lines of morally ambiguous dialogue in a sinisterly deadpan tone all the while wearing mirrored shades, golden chains, and slicked back hair. He completes the look by having the top three buttons of his shirt open, gracing our eyes with a forest of chest hair.

Now to address the second side-character Iz (David’s girlfriend), played by Ana de Armas. If I’m going to keep making The Wolf of Wall Street comparisons (which I really shouldn’t) then Ana de Armas is the Margot Robbie of this film. Although Armas’ character is significantly more pleasant and sympathetic than Robbie’s character was. The only film from Armas’ back catalogue that I have seen is Eli Roth’s Knock Knock in which she plays one of two incredibly attractive women who torture Keanu Reeves. Knock Knock is a massive turd of a movie, so it’s good to see that her career has advanced enough to land her in a film like War Dogs.

War Dogs is directed by Todd Phillips – the director of The Hangover Trilogy and Due Date. Out of all the people I’d expect to direct a satire of the arms industry, Todd Philips isn’t one of them. Oliver Stone: yes, Todd Phillips: never. This is not the first time that an unexpected director has tackled a complicated subject, last year (2015) Anchorman director and frequent Judd Apatow collaborator Adam McKay directed a satirical film about the banking crisis: The Big Short. However, unlike The Big Short, War Dogs is enjoyable, memorable and good.

Verdict:

 An enjoyable and savage comedic satire of the Arms Industry. It strives to be The Wolf of Wall Street and fails to quite hit that mark, however it soars above trash like The Big Short and is significantly more memorable… in a good way. There are times when the performances (particularly Hill’s) are better than every other aspect of the movie, but all in all it’s a very good film.

Stars: 4/5

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