War Dogs? Think The Wolf of Wall Street with grenades.
Todd Phillips has put together a film that, in an industry currently flooded with remakes and cliches, is actually pretty good.
I had been looking forward to this one, and straight from the off I felt reeled into the aggressiveness of the film, which, incredibly, is based on a true story. You’re quickly educated on the nature of War Dogs, the economies of war, the value of a US soldier’s uniform ($17,500 per soldier) and the processes involved in actually getting a weapon into a marine’s hand. Not to mention the opportunities in this space for a couple of bold entrepreneurial twenty something guys.
One of these guys is Jonah Hill, playing Efraim Diveroli.
He mixes his natural comedy roots with a darker, scary side that’s almost like a smarter, charismatic development of his character Donnie from The Wolf of Wall Street. What we are left with is an engaging persona summarised well when we watch him nonchalantly wield a machine gun down a Miami suburb, firing rounds into the sky.
It’s all very Scarface when it comes to Efraim, and Jonah revels in it as an actor.
A common theme of the film, which seems to draw much inspiration from various classics. Some of Efraim’s one-liners are genius, and prompted some very loud laughing from a particular gentleman behind me in the screening. Jonah’s own laugh in the movie is also one to be admired.
Miles Teller of Insurgent fame plays David Packouz, the good cop to Jonah Hill’s bad cop.
I found his character in War Dogs more suited to his particular acting style than his role in Insurgent, where he played an easily dislikable smarmy rogue. He’s a decent guy in War Dogs who gets misled fairly easily, and actually hits that eureka “I should stop now” moment that we would expect our protagonists to go through regularly, but rarely do.
As you follow these two through their war profiting adventure, you see plenty of colourful characters with intriguing cameo-like sections in the movie.
And these cameos help keep the story alive, as the two protagonists consult them with various business schemes: some of which go well, some better than well, and others absolutely disastrously.
There’s a certain joy to be found in seeing some young people building something, even if it’s supplying some seriously heavy weaponry for a war. In many ways, this is where a lot of the film’s joy stems from: the buzz and tension of two confident but inexperienced young men battling with the dangers of a very vicious and very grown up world.
The movie didn’t quite reach the levels of The Wolf of Wall Street, Scarface, etc, from which it took so much inspiration.
A major cause of this was its confused identity, suffering from the constant shifts between comedy, thriller and action. Yet while this does lead to a disjointed feel in parts, it doesn’t tarnish the film in its entirety, actually working positively for much of the narrative.
Finally, Bradley Cooper chips in with a very decent contribution as an arms supplier on a terrorist watch list. Unfortunately however, this was very much counter-balanced by the inclusion of poker player, social media celebrity and general dickhead, Dan Bilzerian. What probably started as an attempt at clever marketing came more across as cringeworthy acting in a cheap scene.
Ultimately, War Dogs is a solid, entertaining romp that’s better than most of the movies from a lacklustre year so far.
My rating: 7/10