War Dogs Review


By: Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

If you could have your dream job, what would it be? A-list actor? Professional athlete? Creator of the next big thing so you can retire in a year? All great options, and all difficult to obtain. Being the CEO of your own company wouldn’t be bad either, especially if you’re able to line up $300 million dollar contracts with the American government. And so was the story for two guys from Miami who became international arms dealers and landed the largest contract with the United States in their early twenties. Todd Phillips brings the story to the screen in his latest film, War Dogs.

David Packouz (Miles Teller) is struggling. He’s working as a masseuse to pay the bills and trying to get into the bed sheet industry as an entrepreneur, but things aren’t working out so well. That is until an old friend from junior high, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill), pops up one day and offers David a job. Efraim had been working with his uncle, who was an arms dealer, and he had come upon a website offering government arms contracts to whoever could fill the supply. Without much more to go on, David decides to join his old pal, which pays immediate dividends. But Efraim looks bigger and bigger, and with the help of a shady for arms dealer in Omar (Bradley Cooper), they are able to land the biggest independent contract worth $300 million dollars. But becoming overnight successes and working with shady people in an industry known for back alley dealings, things are bound to go bad somewhere, especially when you’re in your early 20’s, smoke weed daily, and have no clue how to do serious international business with people who have no problem killing you and taking your product. Can Efraim and David sort out the situation, make a profit, and keep their lives or will they become another statistic in the war on terror or even kill each other?

War Dogs Pic 1

When we think of Todd Phillips, we think of the Hangover trilogy. So when he takes on a more serious subject, and a true story, there’s the question of which direction it will go. Phillips masterfully blends the drama and seriousness of the situation with comedic elements which never feel forced, as they often did in the last two Hangover films. He also brings in the various landscapes in which the events took place, taking us to the Middle East and putting us in the lives of gun runners. We’re taken from the beginning roots, particularly of David, and up through this moral labyrinth that he must transverse, all the while getting deeper and deeper and the danger becoming ever more apparent. Phillips finds the moments in which to allow a lighthearted joke, or, more noticeably, a common reaction any of us would have in the situation that comes off as funny by the way the line is delivered. It is all relatable as we’d respond the exact same way. What Phillips does here is make us relate heavily to David, and in some ways, Efraim. They are opposites of one another and Phillips is able to create a yin and yang effect with the two, and we watch how the continuity in friendship erodes as time goes on.

War Dogs pic 2

Originally, Jesse Eisenberg (Now You See Me) and Shia LaBeouf (Fury) were supposed to play the title roles, but both were eventually replaced. I could have seen both original actors working, but really like the way Hill and Teller work together. Hill is, once again, in top form as Efraim. He dropped out of school young and was raised around the arms dealing business in California with his uncle, and, once finding he could do contracts with the government, wanted a piece of that pie. He’s driven to succeed, and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. He is passionate about what he wants, even to a fault. Hill progressively grows and evolves as a character, showing the dark side of success and the means some will take to get more and more, even if it means sacrificing those around you. Teller, on the other hand, takes us on a roller coaster of a ride of a young man with nothing going for him to being recruited into a world he knows nothing about and having to learn on the fly and just trying to make things work. Yet his moral compass is always there, and much has to do with his girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas), whom he wants to please and have a future with. Yet he finds himself having to lie to her, and to others close to him, all in the hope of making quick money so he can have a comfortable life that he’s always worked hard for. Bradley Cooper is a little underused in his role as a mediator in the arms trade, but, with him being on a watch list and unable to have any contact with the United States, it’s expected. But he makes the most out of his role, conveying a calm, calculated man who carries an underlying tone of power and respect.

War Dogs works in so many ways, yet there are times where the narrative tends to drag a little. Fortunately the performances are solid all around, so we’re able to tread these slower times with ease. The action isn’t high in a film about arms dealing during the Afghan war, yet there is still enough tense moments to keep people entertained. Plus Hill and Teller working together is another of those matches made in heaven…or Hollywood. War Dogs isn’t going to blow away the box office by any means, especially when it will be released against Kubo and the remake of Ben-Hur, but there is still plenty to like with this film. Solid performances, a true story, and ideas on how to make hundreds of millions of dollars. You just may want to become a War Dog yourself!*

*As of this publishing, War Dogs are not recruiting. Don’t quit your day job!

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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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