War Dogs Movie Review
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While combining genres like war and comedy aren’t particularly common, it isn’t something that’s completely uncommon. Movies like Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and Inglourious Basterds (2009) are more evenly weighted. Then there are selections such as Stripes (1981) and Tropic Thunder (2008) that are total farces which just happen to have a war backdrop. If you throw a new genre, say biography, then things get a bit more interesting. Factual events tend to assist in the easing up on the throttle of slapstick and silliness. A good example of that is Tina Fey’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016). Yes it had an overall air of comedy about it but it also dealt with the seriousness of the situation at hand, wartime coverage in Afghanistan. This brings us to the biographical war comedy, War Dogs. What type of mixture can we expect here and will it be watered down too much one way or the other? Time to start peeling back some layers.
David Packouz’s (Miles Teller) story is just like many other stories you may have heard. He has all of the good intentions in the world and is looking to make an honest dollar. David has all of the tools to succeed except one, luck. He doesn’t know this at the time but his life is about to change drastically. While attending a funeral, David runs into a childhood Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) who he has not seen in many years. The two immediately make small talk and begin catching up on old times as well as their current situations. As it turns out, the two are heading in opposite directions. David is frustrated with where his career has taken him whereas Efraim has a smile that couldn’t be removed with a grenade.
Speaking of grenades, this is how Efraim is making his comfortable living. He sells guns and ammo for a living…LEGALLY. Well more on that grey area in a bit. With how David’s life is trending, he can’t help but latch onto the lifeline that is thrown his way by Efraim. Before you know it David is bringing in some good and has starting feeling good about himself. Not too far into the distant future an opportunity of a lifetime comes their way. This is when the two begin to realize that everything comes at a cost. Morality and legality become targets of opportunity.
Keep in mind that War Dogs is indeed based on facts from true events that happened less than a decade ago. In a surprising choice of projects for him, director Todd Phillips (The Hangover Trilogy) latched onto this outrageous story and made it even more outrageous by casting Miles Teller (Fantastic Four (2015)) and Jonah Hill (21 Jump Street (2012)). Obviously Phillips knows how to engage audiences through R-rated humor but this time he can’t make up events on a whim just to suit his vision. Thankfully this is the type of ridiculousness that literally writes itself. All Phillips had to do was to put faces to it. Some of the other faces that you’ll see contributing here are Ana de Armas (Knock Knock (2015)), Kevin Pollak (Casino (1995)) and Patrick St. Esprit (Draft Day (2014)). There is a bigger name missing from this list but I’ll keep that one out of this review to preserve the minor surprise that will come to those who have not seen or noticed this person in any of the commercials or trailers.
It’s tough to say that the acting was one thing or another due to the fact that they had guidelines they needed to follow given the true nature of the story. I will speak on the casting though, in particular of Teller and Hill. Teller has expanded his horizons and has proved once again (remember Whiplash (2014)?) that he doesn’t need to totally ham it up to be successful. Even though this movie deals with quite a few comedic moments, it isn’t gratuitous and Teller holds his own in the more dramatic scenes. This was probably good practice for his next role which is far from the comedy genre. Bleed For This (2016) puts Teller front and center once again for yet another true story. This time, however, any humorous moments will be few and far between. Hill, on the other hand, just had a movie released last year called True Story (2015), ironically enough, that was definitely on the serious front. One of these characters is pretty much likable throughout while the other will start to work your nerves the deeper the story goes. They’re both good at what they do though even though there is zero resemblance to their real life counterparts which can be seen right here.
War Dogs follows in the footsteps other recent scandalous true stories that coated stories of bad people cheating the system with a well proportioned size of humor in order to get audiences in theaters to witness the preposterousness behavior of Americans chasing the almighty dollar. Two movies that come to mind with a similar tone are The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Big Short (2015). Both went on to become very profitable movies that were also extremely fun to watch, mostly due to the humor. As long as audiences can buy into what Todd Phillips is selling, in this case it’s Miles Teller and Jonah Hill becoming international drug runners, then the financial future of War Dogs might be bright. Personally, I found the story to be very intriguing due to the sheer absurdity of the entire situation which is why I can easily recommend this movie to others. Check it out in theaters right now.