Based on a true story, War Dogs tells the story of two friends who quickly get in over their heads in the gunrunning business during the war on terror in the mid-2000’s. Remember the mid 2000’s? That was an interesting time. Stand-up comedians had a justified target in the antics and faux pas of our POTUS, Tom Cruise was jumping on couches, and there were supposedly going to be no more Star Wars after George Lucas closed out his prequel trilogy with Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. Oh, and American Idol was not only still very much a thing, but also a very popular thing at that…it’s funny how oblivious my 19-year old self was to the chaos and the ridiculousness that allowed two people like David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) to profit off of the war on terrorism like they did. Starting out as low-level gunrunners supplying the United States military with necessary equipment by undercutting other companies over the internet seems like an insane premise steeped in fiction, but this actually happened.
Todd Philips is the master of taking characters no one should have any business liking and making them exceptionally likable; just look The Hangover Trilogy, they’re all selfish douchebags but they begin to feel like they’re YOUR selfish douchebag friends. You feel this way about the character of David; he’s the character you’re following throughout the film. He’s just an average guy getting by at the beginning of the movie; he’s working as a massage therapist as his primary source of income, and for a little bit of scratch he’s trying to hock specialized luxury bed sheets to retirement homes. Then we meet Efraim, who introduces David to his government contract bidding schemes. Efraim is like that person you know who everyone stopped hanging out with at a certain point; he’s living purely off of nepotism, he is abrasive, pushy, and unwilling to mature into a fairly functional adult; Jonah Hill tends to play these characters rather well now that he can no longer pass as a nerdy teenager. David dives headfirst into the business after finding out his girlfriend, Iz (Ana De Armas) is pregnant with his child. Feeling pressured by the desire to provide a better life for Iz and his coming baby, David fully embraces the legal crime life by becoming business partners with Efraim, creating AEY Inc, which doesn’t really stand for anything.
From then on out, the film has twists and turns that make for a fun movie that can feel all over the place at times, but in a good way. There’s scenes where David and Efraim find themselves in impossible situations and you genuinely become concerned for their well being; other times it raises ethical questions you find yourself trying to answer, like would you be doing the same thing they did if you thought of it first? There are a ton of things that make their lifestyles appealing; money, women, expensive cars and houses, etc. Is the life worth the risk? Efraim becomes downright volatile at certain points in the movie, and plunges certain situations past their natural breaking point. The great Kevin Pollack plays Ralph Slutsky, a funder for AEY Inc. I love Pollack in just about anything, but here I feel he’s under utilized and he makes this decision in the last few minutes of the film that lack setup and come out of nowhere. I wish we could have seen more conflict and inner turmoil so we could understand why he did what he did.
Towards the films conclusion Bradley Cooper’s character, Henry Girard, is thrown into the already caustic mix. Girard is such an insanely cold character, and holy shit does Bradley Cooper work magic with this role. We’ve never seen Cooper do something like this; it’s downright unsettling and spine chilling, his presence always made me feel a deep sense of anxiety and dread. My only complaint about Cooper’s performance is that he wasn’t in the film enough; I would have loved to see more of him.
War Dogs isn’t a conventional comedy, but it does have some very comical moments steeped in with the tense drama and the action scenes (of which Teller and Hill generally spend hiding behind something until the dust settles). You feel for David even though he made a lot of money exploiting the system, and despite his psychotic tendencies you’ll probably have a soft spot for Efraim too. The film has style when we’re seeing our two leads living the life of luxury, but it has some really nauseating shaky cam to accentuate the danger of firefights. If you’re looking for something that’s a straight comedy, I wouldn’t recommend this to you; it’s deeper than that, and the themes go to different places. If you’re in the mood for something like Scarface but with some seriously hilarious moments that break up the drama and the tension, this is the perfect movie to find.
War Dogs (2016) Directed by: Todd Philips. Written by: Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips, Jason Smilovic, Guy Lawson. Starring: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Kevin Pollak, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper.
8 out of 10