WAR DOGS (USA/15A/114mins)
Directed by Todd Phillips. Starring Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Kevin Pollack, Ana De Armas, Patrick St. Esprit
THE PLOT: Ephriam (Jonah Hill) and David (Miles Teller) were best friends in juniour high, but lost touch. When the two reconnect at a funeral, Ephriam brings David into his world of high stakes arms dealing to the US government, and it is no t long before the two are raking in millions of dollars in profits, and doing everything they can to make sure their income keeps getting larger.
THE VERDICT: ‘War Dogs’ marks the first time that director Todd Phillips has taken on a drama flick, and although it could be said that ‘The Hangover’ films, toward the end, were a war on comedy, a film dealing with war – or rather, the spoils of it – is also new territory for the director. The trouble is that ‘War Dogs’ should be a black comedy, and could have been in different hands, but as it stands, this true story is rather boring and ultimately, dull.
Miles Teller and Jonah Hill take on the lead roles in ‘War Dogs’, with Hill looking more and more like Marlon Brando toward the end of his life. This comparison also feels apt as Hill plays Efraim, the godfather of this caper; the man who pulls David (Teller) into the world of international arms dealing. Hill seems to base most of his character on an annoying and rather jarring laugh, but doesn’t do much else to make the character feel rounded or whole. Miles Teller plays the one with the morals in the film, but other than some early reservations, he doesn’t make the character much more sturdy than Hill’s. The rest of the cast features Kevin Pollack, Bradley Cooper and Ana De Armaz in smaller roles.
Based on the Guy Lawson Rolling Stone article “Arms and the Dudes”, the screenplay for ‘War Dogs’ was written by Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips and Jason Smilovic, but in expanding the story from an article, the film runs into trouble. War Dogs should be a black comedy about how two young men find themselves at the heart of international arms dealing – or at least have the light hearted tone of the original article – but although attempts are made to convey this, the voice over of the film murders any tension created in the film, and the characters are so unlikeable that it is hard to root for them when their legal dealings turn illegal.
As director, Todd Phillips tries to keep the film moving at a decent pace, but doesn’t do much in terms of establishing characters. The audience is never given a chance to root for these characters who find themselves wildly out of their depth; any morals that David has at the start of the film seem to disappear, and it is always obvious that the charmed life of beautiful apartments and fast cars is never going to last. There is a sense of fun that is missing in ‘War Dogs’, and without it, the film falls flat.
In all, ‘War Dogs’ does its best to be a caper about two kids who find themselves dealing arms to the US government, but it is never as fun as it should be, and it is difficult to root for the greedy and obnoxious characters at the heart of the film.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Similar in some respects to Andrew Niccol’s Lord Of War, but instead shot through with Todd Phillips’ brand of American humour, War Dogs looks at the dodgy world of contract arms dealing.

    Based on a true story, it features high school friends David Packouz (Miles Tiller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). David is earning a meagre living in Miami as a massage therapist and a bed linen salesman, while carrying on a relationship with girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas). He comes back into contact with Efraim, who is an arms dealer with links to the US Government. This is 2005, with America fighting the war on terror on two different fronts – Afghanistan and Iraq. Attracted by the idea of earning loads of money, David goes into business with Efraim, setting up an initial contract to bring guns to the US Army in Iraq in order to arm the local police. That mission gets hairy, but that’s nothing compared to what happens later on, when they encounter supplier Henry (Bradley Cooper), who is on a US watchlist. The Pentagon hires the two guys to bring ammunition to the US Army, but things don’t go according to plan…

    Perhaps taking a cue from fellow comedy director Adam McKay, Phillips has made a turn into the dramatic arena. What seems like a comedy from the trailer is actually a drama with some comedic elements, mostly courtesy of Hill’s high-pitched laugh. It’s based on the Rolling Stone article Arms And The Dudes by Guy Lawson, which was in itself the original title of the film. The story wouldn’t be credible unless it was actually true. These guys were early twentysomethings who found themselves in over their heads and under the competition on tendering budgets when it came to arms dealing, which included illegal deals with black market goods. That sense of these guys just about keeping up with the situation is played out throughout the story, but with added drama and tension between them to suggest that this partnership might just break their friendship too.

    Teller and Hill make compelling leads, but are noticeably older than their characters are meant to be. That’s a minor distraction. More noticeable are the plot holes in the story, like just how the US Government wasn’t clued in to these supposed merchants of death earlier on. The story really needed a Government official to spice up the plot and have a clearer antagonist following the trail of dodgy bullets. Instead, we get Cooper in an extended cameo which is fine, but he’s not around long enough to make a narrative impact. That said though, it’s an entertaining ride with Phillips careful not to overplay the humour and instead pump up the tension and the impending threat of the lid being lifted on this rotten can of worms. Three Kalashnikov bullets out of five. ***

  • emerb

    You may recognise the director here – Todd Phillips, he brought us the Hangover trilogy but with his latest film, “War Dogs”, he has noticeably changed pace. While on the surface it is a comedy drama, it is actually a much darker and far more political film than its ads would suggest and is centred on a true life story set during the years of the Iraq war. Officially based on a Rolling Stone article
    (and subsequent book) by Guy Lawson titled “Arms and the Dudes, “War Dogs” is a fictionalized telling of the astonishing story of two Miami Beach potheads (played by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill) who become self-appointed arms dealers to the US military. Starting off as small-timers, they quickly work their way up to scoring a $300 million government contract to supply ammunition to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Once they start, they can’t stop as the money is just too good. Clearly Phillips has been hugely influenced by films such as “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “American Hustle or “The Big Short” which portrayed real life fraud, duplicity and illegal activities in the financial world.

    Teller plays David Packouz, a massage therapist living in Miami with a pregnant girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas) who is struggling to make a bit more cash and even tries selling bulk bed sheets to retirement homes. But David thinks his luck has changed when he runs into a childhood friend, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), an obnoxious but successful entrepreneur/con-artist. David remembers Efraim as his best friend back in the day but he was also a bad influence and he is wary as
    to whether he can trust him. Desperate for a solution to his financial problems, and knowing nothing about military contracts, he agrees to join Efraim’s shady business, AEY Inc (which stands for – nothing!). Efraim acts as a middleman between weapons suppliers and the military in profitable deals. At first, things are going smoothly as they are only partaking in small time deals but as the contracts start getting bigger, complications arise. They find themselves travelling to LA where they meet a powerful arms dealer (Bradley Cooper) and then to Baghdad where they must take a truck full of guns through the Triangle of Death but it’s when they get a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to sell 100 million rounds of AK-74 ammunition to the Afghan army, it starts to spiral way out of control. Things are fast becoming not only illegal but criminal.

    Hill and Teller make a terrific team. Two-time Academy award nominee Hill is a hoot, bedazzled in rings and jewellery with his hair gelled back and a hilarious high-pitched laugh. His Efraim has the charisma to lure in clients, even David, but beneath it all he is a morally dubious, reckless sociopath who is only nice and helpful as long as he’s benefiting from the situation. Teller made memorable
    impressions in “The Spectacular Now” and the Oscar-winning “Whiplash’’ and here he is as solid as you would expect. Tense and calculating, David is the more worried, quieter partner in crime who finds himself in way over his head after he succumbs to the lure of fast easy money. And Cooper makes the most of his small role as a man for whom living a life of crime is a way of life.

    “War Dogs” may be a reality-based movie but it is undeniably entertaining,
    wickedly funny and surprisingly cynical. I can see it doing well, not as well as the “Hangover”, given the more serious tone, but word of mouth and a pretty good cast should attract reasonably high audience numbers. Throughout the film, we laugh consistently at the completely bonkers situation but at the back of our minds we are aware that it all actually happened (I’d love to know how much of it was exaggerated or fabricated). While this film may masquerade as a buddy comedy, it raises serious questions about the consequences and far reaching implications of war. At no stage are the characters’ actions glamorized, it’s never trivial and the US Government’s participation in what transpired doesn’t slip by unnoticed. Granted, this movie won’t go down as the best ever film about international fraud but it’s one of the ones that I have enjoyed the most.