I wasn’t expecting much from War Dogs. The trailer suggested it was about two frat boys who made their way to the top of the arms dealer chain to live an American dream that’s one for the record books. Director Todd Phillips has helmed films like Road Trip, Due Date, and Hangover 1 & 2, so that also put me in a frame of mind as to what the film would be like. While the film certainly is light-hearted and has its comedic moments, I was surprised to see a line of serious social commentary weaved throughout it.
Based on a true story, War Dogs focuses on David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). After being a massage therapist in the Miami area for the rich, and trying to step out into a failed entrepreneurial endeavor selling bed sheets, David is down on his luck. Enter his childhood friend Efraim, who tells him he has a million dollars in his bank account, not to brag, just because they’re boys. David is quickly sucked into Efraim’s world. He learns that the US government has a website that is opened to the public for bidding on selling weapons, uniforms, vehicles, and other bulk war needs.
This movie is slick as Efraim, the mastermind behind it all. It pulls some of its crime genre aesthetics straight from Goodfellas with the main character narrating over a freeze frame as he explains why Albanian gangsters are punching him. Weapons and uniforms have animated prices on them to stress the central theme of war being about money. The gimmicks work for the story though, as it helps us start to view dealing weapons as they do. You see the dollars and cents behind war, and thus you can see how so many profit off of it.
As David and Efraim start to go higher up the chain, David tries to keep things from his devoted girlfriend Iz (an underused Ana De Armas). Iz is strictly in the film as a beautiful one-note girlfriend, who gives conflict back on the home front as David goes into high-risk situations in Iraq and Albania. It’s the ride to the top and adventures along the way that are entertaining to watch and certainly humorous.
Jonah Hill is a scene-stealer as Efraim. From the moment he steps into the frame you can see he’s a slick talking con artist who will be whoever he needs to be for the person he’s talking with as David says in the film. Hill’s signature laugh, created for this character, tops it all off. Teller is our eyes-in character, and is solid in his role but nothing more, nothing less. We get two well done character performances from Kevin Pollack and Bradley Cooper to round out the cast.
As long as you know what you’re getting into this weekend, War Dogs is surprisingly entertaining. The reason it works, is because the comedy breaks up the insane, unbelievably dangerous situations we see these two twenty-somethings get involved in on screen. Yet, it’s sobering to realize that this is all based on reality. Right down to the amount of time (or lack there of) they are supposed to serve for their crimes, it really makes you think about our justice system, or lack there of.