Friday, 19 August 2016

Film Review: War Dogs

War Dogs is based on the incredible true story of two 20-somethings who won a $300 million contract to supply weapons to the US military. It stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, with Todd Philips behind the camera.

War Dogs is like Lord of War meets The Big Short via Spring Breakers and Superbad; if that sounds like a confusing concoction that it equal parts riveting and disastrous, you'd be right. It's the kind of film that you'll struggle to define purely because it's not as serious as it might've been nor as funny as it was marketed. It's spearheaded by two truly detestable main characters that you'll struggle to side with, and yet, in spite of all of this, somehow still carries itself across the finish line in decent shape.

Set in 2005, the film follows David Packouz (Teller), a college dropout who works as a massage therapist in Miami Beach. A directionless stoner loser, David's life is turned on its head when he reunites with Efraim Diveroli (Hill), an old friend from school who works as an international arms dealer. Efraim is known as a 'war dog'; a bottom-feeder dealer who scoops up small Pentagon contracts, making money off of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan by selling guns, ammo and equipment to the military.

Efrain decides to take David under his wing, coaching him on how to play the game and make lots of moolah. Their underhand dealings see their profits skyrocket, leading to a classic zero to hero and back again tale that soon sees the two struggling to stay afloat.

I'm not really sure what to make of War Dogs; on the one hand, it's not what I was expecting in that it actually has some real weight behind the story. It's not the throwaway comedy glimpsed in the trailers. While the laughs do come, they don't flow as frequently as you'd expect. Philips has crafted a strange hybrid of a film that seesaws between drama and comedy, much like the aforementioned The Big Short of the more recent Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. 

At times, it feels like we're bearing witness to a much more ambitious and straightforward drama film, like Scarface (a film that David and Efraim constantly reference). The film is divided into chapters, each marked with a title card teasing an upcoming line of dialogue that hints at where the story will go.

What really carries the film is Hill's arresting performance. He's an unconventional, unpredictable mixture of Alien from Spring Breakers and Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street. Utterly detestable for sure, but you're unable to pull yourself away, like watching a hideous car crash. On the flipside, Teller is just okay. His trademark smarmy grin gets a good workout, but David could've been played by anyone to be honest.

Bradley Cooper's cameo is exactly that - a cameo. He plays a shady arms dealer who controls vast reserves of cargo in Albania. That's pretty much it. I don't know, maybe the pay was decent? The shortest straw belongs to Ana de Armas; she plays David's ridiculously gorgeous and clueless fiancee who is constantly being lied to whilst stuck at home. It's a thankless job that never escapes cliche.

Oh, Dan Bilzerian also has a cameo. Just mentioning it so you can mentally prepare yourself to bear witness to his stupid face/beard.

The Verdict: 5/10

Obnoxious, eclectic and unconventional, War Dogs is a firecracker that could spear off in any direction at any second. The first half is a romp, the second a more derivative rise and fall narrative. If it weren't for Hill, it'd be lost at sea - instead, his sociopathic party animal performance almost makes it worthwhile. Almost.

War Dogs is in cinemas across Australia now

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